Dynamics of collective attention: Competition for ephemeral popularity and the impact of modern communication pathways

Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, M.Sc. at Technische Universität Berlin, is visiting SODAS and will be presenting at a SODAS Talk Friday the 23th November 2018.


Operationalized as e.g. usage volume of hashtags, movie ticket sales or the counts of comments on online forums, we measure the dynamics of ‘public attention’ for various cultural items in large online data sets. These trajectories of public attention became accessible since the onset of social media, which is characterized by a high level of self-organization. We design interpretable models that rely on the basic mechanisms ‘imitation’, ‘saturation’ and ‘competition’, inspired by the modern attention economy of the internet. We use two different modeling frameworks, stochastic ranking dynamics and Lotka-Volterra equations, to interconnect these ingredients. The higher-level insight is that bursty dynamics and scale-free event sizes are caused by the critical tensions of competition in an interplay with the ephemerality of popularity.  Rapid and dense communication pathways across the internet are not only interesting as new data sources, but also as the cause of alterations in our collective behavior. In a large-scale data study, we find strong empirical evidence for the systematic acceleration of the public discussion. With the help of the models we develop, quicker adoption of popular topics can be linked to an earlier descent of collective interest. Social media platforms became the stages for the formation of opinions and ever shorter intervals of attention for different topics might reduce the depths and duration of reporting. These findings have the potential to help to understand the dynamics of the public discussion better and to mitigate possible negative developments in modern communication systems.

The SODAS Talk will take place in Building 35, Floor 3, Room 20 (35.3.20) of the CSS Campus, Copenhagen University, from 11.00am - 12.00pm.

If you have questions or want to know more, please write Agnete Vienberg Hansen at