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The strength of long-range ties in population-scale social networks

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Science  21 Dec 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6421, pp. 1410-1413
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau9735

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The strength of long-range ties

It seems reasonable that we would have the closest, strongest ties with people in our immediate social network and that the ties between networks would be weaker. However, Park et al. discovered strong ties that spanned extreme network (not geographic) distances in 11 culturally diverse population-scale networks on four continents—encompassing 56 million Twitter users and 58 million mobile phone subscribers. Although they are fairly rare, strong ties between networks could be important for the spreading of ideas or disease.

Science, this issue p. 1410

Abstract

Long-range connections that span large social networks are widely assumed to be weak, composed of sporadic and emotionally distant relationships. However, researchers historically have lacked the population-scale network data needed to verify the predicted weakness. Using data from 11 culturally diverse population-scale networks on four continents—encompassing 56 million Twitter users and 58 million mobile phone subscribers—we find that long-range ties are nearly as strong as social ties embedded within a small circle of friends. These high-bandwidth connections have important implications for diffusion and social integration.

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