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Physicists Talk about Twitter, or How to Trace Information on the Internet

Once published, information on the Internet never goes away, even though some people would probably like it to. How to find the original sender of a piece of information? Why gossip becomes the most important message of the day, and news that are important to the world disappear in the sea of information? And where did all of this begin? Physicists from the Warsaw University of Technology are currently researching this issue.

Internet users ask Google approximately 40 thousand questions in one second, which translates to about 1.3 trillion questions a year. In one minute, 2.5 million posts appear on Facebook; at the same time, 300 thousand tweets are posted on the Internet, and Instagram grows by 220 thousand new photos. 3 billion people use the Internet – the volume of information they produce is simply incredible.

The process of dissemination of these pieces of information and finding the point of origin of a given message are studied by a team of scientists led by Prof. Janusz Hołyst, PhD (Eng.) from the Warsaw University of Technology. The research is conducted under the project titled “RENOIR – Reverse EngiNeering of sOcial Information pRocessing”, financed from EU’s Horizon 2020 “Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions” programme.

From Physics to Sociology

Why physicists deal with this area seemingly so distant from their main interests? “When thinking about Twitter or Facebook, we have to remember that these are very specific media where we are both consumers and producers of information”, Prof. Hołyst explains. “What’s most important in them is that we can repost information from other users, provided that it interests us. Every day on Twitter, tweets are reposted in tens of millions in their original form (as so-called retweets), and the number of messages containing information from other tweets is difficult to calculate”.

This network of connections is similar to a very specific nervous system. “And neural networks were studied by physicists as early as the 1980s”, adds the researcher. He then goes on to say that similar to a neural network, connections between Twitter users are also constantly changing. According to the analyses conducted by one of the project’s partners at the Stanford University, creation and dissolution of connections between Twitter users is correlated with interest profiles of individual users and their activity.

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WUT'S researchers work on a range of scientific topics which are explored in different areas and on a different scale. Often the outcome of these helps with the development of new technologies or everyday products to come into being.

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