Please join us for a talk being given by Patrick Park from the University of Michigan.
The Strength of Long-Range Ties in Population-Scale Social Networks
Based on observations from small-scale social networks (e.g., schools, neighborhoods), four decades of network research has widely assumed that interpersonal connections bridging socially distant groups are weak, comprised of sporadic and emotionally distant relationships. However, researchers historically have lacked the data needed to verify the predicted weakness of ties that bridge truly distant groups in larger collectives (e.g., national populations). Using data from eleven culturally diverse population-scale communication networks on four continents – encompassing 56M Twitter users and 58M mobile phone subscribers – I confirm the relational weakness (low communication frequency) of short-range bridging ties typically observed in smaller social contexts, compared to the socially more proximate non-bridging ties that share common friends. Surprisingly, however, previously unobservable long-range bridging ties turn out to be nearly as strong as the socially proximate non-bridging ties that share a common friend. Evidence from content, temporal, and geographic analyses suggests that these strong connections spanning extraordinarily distant network communities are emotionally expressive, socially oriented relationships that cannot be explained by an individual's strategic effort aimed to gain information advantages. The discovery of relationally strong long-range bridging ties implies the possibility of transmitting high volumes of novel information across long social distances and calls for an extension to the broadly accepted view that novel information travels in low volume through relationally weak ties. Finally, I highlight the implications for diffusion through a stylized simulation experiment, demonstrating the increases in the speed and the breadth of social diffusion in a world with vs. without strong long-range bridging ties.