How to separate real information from chaff in Social Media

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on August 11, 2011

Recently I was asked to explain how we could tell Real Events in Social Media from Viral Events produced by one or two individuals which  spread online.   Was the  Netflix Outrage a facade or not?  In this regard I can provide some guidance.

Referring back to a post titled  Some Trending Topics are More Equal Than others appearing at GigaOM last weekend, the author, a computer scientist named Mor Naaman, said there are essentially two types of trending topics on Twitter (Twitter is much easier for scientists to analyze and test computer algorithms with,  as the data is mostly public and easy to access, mostly not the case for Facebook, LinkedIn, at el).

Endogenous Trending Topics occur when a topic has viral spread. Once it becomes a Trending Topic, everyone jumps onto it to spread it even further. For example,  a hash tag such as #intenyears is not likely to happen naturally, the information was spread through the efforts of one or two people, and re-tweeted by many others.

Exogenous Trending Topics happen when people talk about the same thing at the same time, but are not responding to each other,  instead  responding to a cultural moment. This often happens when there are major new events, or TV shows that are broadcasting something of great interest such as the Summer Olympics .

The author of the article  investigated which  trending topics could be captured in Twitter,  along with the most important dimensions by which the trends can be characterized, and key distinguishing features of the  topics that can be automatically categorized based on a description of the two types of topics by Danah Boyd:

Danah suggested Exogenous Trending Topics, such as a natural event , are in some sense superior, and more important than Endogenous Topics, like #intenyears  because they are happening naturally, and are not the result of any direct or indirect manipulation.

My position is,  neither type of trending topics is superior, yet Exogenous Trending Topics do appear to me to be more “genuine” as they have no “ulterior purpose”, and  exist by the virtue themselves – sorta like God, who said to Moses on MT. Sinai as a burning bush, “I AM THAT I AM”.

@waxpancake tweet

According to Mor Naaman the tweet above from @waxpancake shown above typifies “trending topics, geographies, and exogenous/endogenous events“, but it’s not clear to me that #rain is being referred to as an Exogenous event, due to the reference to rain,  or a Edogenous trending topic, due to the reference to  Justin Bieber, who clearly has some people propping up his enormous following.

Or maybe it’s for the reader to decide what meaning #rain has.   Mor Norman already answered what he thinks the answer is, via a combination computer algorithms:

So, if we were in Portland with @waxpancake, our system could perhaps show that #rain is *not* a “Justin Beiber” because unlike most tweets about the young pop star, rain tweets and trending topics will correspond to a real-world occurrence (note to Bieber fans: I am not saying he is not real, but I guess this depends how you define “real”).

What do you think?

By: Marshall Sponder

Marshall Sponder is a frequent guest speaker at analytics conferences and blogs at

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