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On Facebook, Most Ties Are Weak


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On Facebook, Most Ties Are Weak, illustration

Credit: Aleksandar Mijatovic

Pervasive socio-technical networks bring new conceptual and technological challenges to developers and users alike. A central research theme is evaluation of the intensity of relations linking users and how they facilitate communication and the spread of information. These aspects of human relationships have been studied extensively in the social sciences under the framework of the "strength of weak ties" theory proposed by Mark Granovetter.13 Some research has considered whether that theory can be extended to online social networks like Facebook, suggesting interaction data can be used to predict the strength of ties. The approaches being used require handling user-generated data that is often not publicly available due to privacy concerns.

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Here, we propose an alternative definition of weak and strong ties that requires knowledge of only the topology of the social network (such as who is a friend of whom on Facebook), relying on the fact that online social networks, or OSNs, tend to fragment into communities. We thus suggest classifying as weak ties those edges linking individuals belonging to different communities and strong ties as those connecting users in the same community. We tested this definition on a large network representing part of the Facebook social graph and studied how weak and strong ties affect the information-diffusion process. Our findings suggest individuals in OSNs self-organize to create well-connected communities, while weak ties yield cohesion and optimize the coverage of information spread.


 

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