Twitter: the King of the Social Media Hierarchy

When the average person hears the word “hierarchy” his first reaction is usually to think of animals, or in the case of people, royalty; he doesn’t usually think of Twitter. But he should, and here’s why:

Primates using hierarchies as a main component of social structures originated in the non-human variety. To avoid predators and manage food, monkeys such as baboons developed large communities and as a result, hierarchies were formed to determine who was in power and who wasn’t. As humans, we still see hierarchies in the case of royalty, but I think we all know that even Queen Elizabeth is aware that her power as head of state is purely symbolic. As general (American) society has moved toward the nuclear family make-up (typically parents and their children living together, with very few extended relatives) mini-hierarchies may still exist, but for the most part had vanished in greater society. At least until social media, specifically Twitter, was created.

Most people these days judge popularity through the number of Facebook “friends” one has. The only problem with this is that the core tenant of popularity is that as one person rises in popularity, another falls. Popularity is a relative concept, so if everyone is popular, no one is. This is why Facebook isn’t the ideal measure of popularity, it’s too symmetric: if you gain a friend, so do they. Therefore, the Facebook Popularity Theory is flawed because you both become more popular. Twitter, on the other hand, exemplifies a hierarchy based on what analyst Matthew Ingram calls an “asymmetric follower model”. If one person follows you, you are not obliged to follow them back. In the case of Ashton Kutcher, he’s been dubbed the “Twitter King” because of his 8,000,000+ followers, compared with the paltry few hundred he follows in return. Many celebrities use Twitter as a way to establish their status as a member of the elite, by following as few people as possible. For example, Kanye West was proud of the fact that he followed absolutely no one, then decided to bestow the honor of his Twitter presence on to one lucky British teen…who then deleted his Twitter from all the requests and messages he then received—maybe some people just can’t handle that much power?

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