Language, demographics, emotions, and the structure of online social networks

Kristina Lerman, Luciano G. Marin, Megha Arora, Lucas H. Costa de Lima, Emilio Ferrara, David Garcia
2017 Journal of Computational Social Science  
Social networks affect individuals' economic opportunities and wellbeing. However, few of the factors thought to shape networks-culture, language, education, and income-were empirically validated at scale. To fill this gap, we collected a large number of social media posts from a major US metropolitan area. By associating these posts with US Census tracts through their locations, we linked socioeconomic indicators to group-level signals extracted from social media, including emotions, language,
more » ... and online social ties. Our analysis shows that tracts with higher education levels have weaker social ties, but this effect is attenuated for tracts with high ratio of Hispanic residents. Negative emotions are associated with Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (more frequent online interactions, or stronger social ties, while positive emotions are associated with weaker ties. These results hold for both Spanish and English tweets, evidencing that language does not affect this relationship between emotion and social ties. Our findings highlight the role of cognitive and demographic factors in online interactions and demonstrate the value of traditional social science sources, like US Census data, within social media studies. Introduction Humans have evolved large brains, in part to handle the complex cognitive demands of social interactions [1]. The social structures resulting from these interaction confer numerous fitness advantages. Scholars distinguish between two types of social relationships: those representing strong and weak ties. Strong ties are characterized by high frequency of interaction and emotional intimacy that can be found in relationships between family members or close friends. People connected by strong ties share mutual friends [2], forming cohesive social bonds that are essential for providing emotional and material support [3, 4] and creating resilient communities [5] . In contrast, weak ties represent more casual social relationships, characterized by less frequent, less intense interactions, such as those occurring between acquaintances. By bridging otherwise unconnected communities, weak ties expose individuals to novel and diverse information that leads to new job prospects [6] and career opportunities [7, 8] . Online social relationships provide similar benefits to those of the offline relationships, including emotional support and exposure to novel and diverse information [9] [10] [11] [12] . How and why do people form different social ties, whether online or offline? Of the few studies that addressed this question, Shea and collaborators examined the relationship between emotions and cognitive social structures [13], i.e., the mental representations individuals form of their social contacts [14] . In a laboratory study, they demonstrated that subjects experiencing positive affect-emotions such as happiness and joy-were able to recall larger and more diverse social contacts than those experiencing negative affect, e.g., sadness. In other words, positive affect was more closely associated with weak ties and negative affect with strong ties in cognitive social structures. The cost of maintaining strong ties is higher than for maintaining weak ties, as they involve higher frequency of interaction, but also their associated benefits are higher, such as emotional support that manifests in the social sharing of negative emotional experiences [4, 15] . As a consequence, frequency of interaction along social ties is positively associated with stronger emotional intensity and negative emotional expression [16] . In addition to psychological factors, social structures also depend on the participants' demographic characteristics, including socioeconomic status [17], culture. A study, which reconstructed a national-scale social network from the phone records of people living in the UK, found that people living in more prosperous regions formed more diverse social networks, linking them to others 210 J Comput Soc Sc (2018) 1:209-225
doi:10.1007/s42001-017-0001-x fatcat:vow5t5coofhojjpiltnyp6nwce