Tweeting Left, Right & Center: How users and attention are distributed across Twitter

Published

On Dec. 17, 2019, Knight Foundation released a two-part study analyzing the political dynamics of 86 million tweetsView part one of the study below, download part two of the study here, and read this blog post from Evette Alexander, Knight Foundation director for learning and impact.

More than 48 million Americans use Twitter, one of the most popular social networking platforms, and one used extensively by media and political junkies. This study analyzed more than 86 million tweets posted in 2017 to reveal how users from across the political spectrum engage differently with news issues and major media outlets on Twitter. We assigned randomly-sampled users ideology scores based on who they follow, then divided them into four segments: extreme left, center left, center right, and extreme right.

Key findings:

  • The center left is the largest segment present on Twitter by far. The extreme right is a distant second in size, followed by the center right and extreme left.
  • The extreme right is more extreme than the extreme left. The ideology scores for users in the extreme right segment are substantially further from the center than those in the extreme left.
  • The center-left and extreme-left segments behave more like each other than the center-right and extreme-right segments do. The both left segments referenced more of the same accounts, whereas the center-right and extreme-right were generally engaged with very different types of accounts from one another.
  • Pundits for the extremes, mainstream media for the center. Users in the two center segments referenced mainstream media accounts much more frequently than extreme users, who engaged more with opinionated sources.