Competition for Popularity and Interventions on a Chinese Microblogging Site

May 26, 2023

New paper by Hao Cui and János Kertész published in PLoS ONE.

ABSTRACTMicroblogging sites are important vehicles for the users to obtain information and shape public opinion thus they are arenas of continuous competition for popularity. Most popular topics are usually indicated on ranking lists. In this study, we investigate the public attention dynamics through the Hot Search List (HSL) of the Chinese microblog Sina Weibo, where trending hashtags are ranked based on a multi-dimensional search volume index. We characterize the rank dynamics by the time spent by hashtags on the list, the time of the day they appear there, the rank diversity, and by the ranking trajectories. We show how the circadian rhythm affects the popularity of hashtags, and observe categories of their rank trajectories by a machine learning clustering algorithm. By analyzing patterns of ranking dynamics using various measures, we identify anomalies that are likely to result from the platform provider’s intervention into the ranking, including the anchoring of hashtags to certain ranks on the HSL. We propose a simple model of ranking that explains the mechanism of this anchoring effect. We found an over-representation of hashtags related to international politics at 3 out of 4 anchoring ranks on the HSL, indicating possible manipulations of public opinion.

Read the article here.