Network pop-ups: Visualizing how information has traveled online

What is the boost?

The way information travels on social media networks is a complex, self-organized process. The original source of information and the path it took can be difficult—if not impossible—to find. A network pop-up traces this path all the way back to the beginning and visualizes the involved actors in a network representation.

How does the boost work?

A network pop-up next to, for instance, a viral tweet, shows the history of a post on social media: how it spread and where it came from (see figure below for an example and see for a proof of concept, see also tracemap’s video embedded below).

Which competences does the boost foster?

Understanding the information landscape on social networks and how it changes. Routinely checking for the social history of a message and spotting inauthentic behavior (e.g., bots).

Which challenges does the boost tackle?

Radical or fringe opinions going viral, mindless sharing of posts, and inauthentic amplification.

What is the evidence behind the boost?

This boost has not yet been directly tested. However, there are two findings that suggest that support the idea behind network pop-ups: The shape (breadth vs. width) of a sharing cascade is predictive for its quality, and crowd-sourced fact checking can match the quality of third party fact-checking (Pennycook & Rand, 2019; Resnick, Alfayez, & Gilbert, 2021).

How is the boost implemented?

Network pop-ups can be implemented by a platform, or as an independent external tool (e.g., a browser add-on).

Key reference

Lorenz-Spreen, P., Lewandowsky, S., Sunstein, C. R., & Hertwig, R. (2020). How behavioural sciences can promote truth, autonomy and democratic discourse online. Nature Human Behaviour, 4, 1102–1109.

Example of visualizing the sharing cascade of a tweet using