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Opportunity Makes Opinion Leaders: Analyzing the Role of First-Hand Information for Opinion Leadership in Social Media Networks

Sat, May 27, 8:00 to 9:15, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Floor: 2, Indigo 204B


The theory of the two-step flow of communication has a long tradition in political communication. Yet, social media have altered the way that information reaches people. This study makes the case that opinion leaders still exist, but that they no longer need to rely on information provided by the media, if they have access to first-hand information. We take the most recent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) as case study. Attendees of the conference had direct information on what was happening and they were able to share this information live with their followers via social media. We used geo-located tweets to identify Twitter users who attended the COP21 summit and located these users in a data set consisting of tweets that were collected based on the main conference hashtag, representing the wider debate. Our results based on network analysis and Twitter user data show that participants are more central actors compared to the average user in the network and they are more likely to have brokering positions. They show a higher involvement in the debate and get more attention by others. We used automated content analysis to divide the COP21 participants into different actor types and ran the analysis by actor group. The results only show minor and non-significant differences and support the robustness of our analysis.