When it comes to political discourse, Twitter chatter splits along liberal and conservative lines that rarely cross, according to a new report.
The Pew Research Center and the Social Media Research Foundation together used software to map and analyze words, hashtags and urls that define Twitter conversation. The results show that when the nature of a conversation on Twitter is political, two distinct and polarized groups tend to form.
Within controversial discussions, liberals tend to use URLs for mainstream news websites, the study found, while conservatives tend to link to a different set of conservative news websites and commentary sources.
And rather than arguing or debating points, these polarized groups are "ignoring one another." They rarely interact in political discourse.
"In polarized crowds, typically triggered by controversial political issues, users interact with like-minded users, receive their information from sources they agree with and link to websites that support their opinions," Itai Himelboim, a co-author of the report, said in a press release.
In one case, the researchers analyzed the connections among Tweeters using the hashtag #My2K, which was proposed by President Obama in November 2012 in the context of the ongoing budget conflict with congressional Republicans. One distinct group using this hashtag was dominated by references to liberal hashtags such as Occupy Wall Street and by liberal commentators such as @NHLABOR_NEWS and @Politics_PR. The other distinct group used a very different set of more conservative hashtags and URLs, such as #tcot ("top conservatives on Twitter") and conservative commentators like @DailyCaller and @TheTeaParty_net.
The researchers point out that only a select group of people use Twitter to talk about political issues. And since only 14 percent of the adult population and 18 percent of Internet users engage in Twitter, this is not a representative study of the full popualtion.
Still, the report provides insight into the ways politically active people sort themselves into a partisan divide when expressing their opinions on Twitter.