This is what disagreement on Twitter looks like. Researchers at Aalto University in Finland explore controversy in social media in a new paper (which is not yet published in a journal), visualizing differences in opinion as red and blue clouds.
The clouds on the left of the image above (a, b, e, and f) represent tweets on controversial issues (tagged with #beefban, a hot topic in India, and #russia_march, about Russian protests over the death of Boris Nemtsov) while the images on the right (c, d, g, and h) are about non-controversial topics like South by Southwest and the Germanwings airplane crash in the Alps earlier this year.
The researchers analyzed hashtags and retweeting patterns to examine how people interact with each other online, including whether they shared links to the same articles or sites, and follow the same people. They found that when controversies erupt, Twitter becomes an echo chamber, with similar opinions ricocheting around the timelines of people who shared the same stuff and followed the same people. As you can see, the left side of the chart shows users on different sides of the issue pulling apart. When tweeting about #beefban (a and e) or #russia_march (b and f), people on either side of the debate weren’t really talking to each other. They were only interacting with people on their side. By contrast, people talking about #sxsw (c and g) and #germanwings (d and h) had more overlap.
This visualization makes disagreement look kind of like silly putty stretching between two hands.