Bursts of communication increase opinion diversity in the temporal Deffuant model

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Fatemeh Zarei, Yerali Gandica & Luis E. C. Rocha

Zarei F., Gandica V. & Rocha L. (2024) Bursts of communication increase opinion diversity in the temporal Deffuant model, Scientific Reports, 14:2222, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-024-52458-w.


Human interactions create social networks forming the backbone of societies. Individuals adjust their opinions by exchanging information through social interactions. Two recurrent questions are whether social structures promote opinion polarisation or consensus and whether polarisation can be avoided, particularly on social media. In this paper, we hypothesise that not only network structure but also the timings of social interactions regulate the emergence of opinion clusters. We devise a temporal version of the Deffuant opinion model where pairwise social interactions follow temporal patterns. Individuals may self-organise into a multi-partisan society due to network clustering promoting the reinforcement of local opinions. Burstiness has a similar effect and is alone sufficient to refrain the population from consensus and polarisation by also promoting the reinforcement of local opinions. The diversity of opinions in socially clustered networks thus increases with burstiness, particularly, and counterintuitively, when individuals have low tolerance and prefer to adjust to similar peers. The emergent opinion landscape is well-balanced regarding groups’ size, with relatively short differences between groups, and a small fraction of extremists. We argue that polarisation is more likely to emerge in social media than offline social networks because of the relatively low social clustering observed online, despite the observed online burstiness being sufficient to promote more diversity than would be expected offline. Increasing the variance of burst activation times, e.g. by being less active on social media, could be a venue to reduce polarisation. Furthermore, strengthening online social networks by increasing social redundancy, i.e. triangles, may also promote diversity.

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Scientific Reports