AIDS Dissident Virtual Community in "VK" SNS: Perspectives for Quantitative Study of Social Structure
This explorative paper aims at demonstrating possibilities of quantitative approach in sociology, including social network analysis, to the study of online communities in social networking services. The object of this study is the largest online group representing the movement and ideology of AIDS dissidents in the most popular Russian SNS «VKontakte». This group counts about 13,000 member users and about 70,000 instances of communication via posts, comments and “likes”. The general and initial goal of quantitative part of this project is to get a presentation and some insights about community’s network structure, communicative behavior of its participants and the role of group’s moderators. This research deals only with data available from social networking service but results obtained may be combined with surveys, interviews or even content and sentiment text analysis.
Our tool to obtain required data was a special software «VKminer» developed by The Laboratory for Internet Studies at Higher School of Economics. This software allow us to import publically available data using API of “VK” service. The collected dataset includes: 1) complete data from the "wall" of AIDS dissidents online group (starting from the date of the earliest post, December 2, 2008 and until December 4, 2013); 2) the metadata of all member users; 3) the data on "friendship" relations existing among community participants.
There are at least two points of view in sociology how to define online community and its boundaries: through self-identity and a formal membership or through behavior and participation in public interactions. The empirical implication corresponding to these approaches is that there are always two intersecting sets of users: those who became official members of a group, and those who contribute to public conversation. We found these sets very different: group counts 13,131 official members, 4,828 contributors and only 1,234 users were both members and contributors.
We analyzed and visualized “friendship” networks existing among both official members and contributors. In the case of AIDS denialists and from the user’s perspective friendships (the number and the structure of these relations, user’s inclusion into internal sub-communities) can influence his / her attitudes and behavior, to make him/her more confident on AIDS dissident theory, as well as determine the chances of his/her dissuasion. Also the user’s position in such network reflects the amount of social capital he/she holds within the community. From the community’s perspective "friendship" network mapping give an insight into informal structure of the group, its cohesion, partition, channels for information diffusion and mobilize community members for collective action.
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