Thursday, February 2, 2023

Modeling opinion polarization on social media: application to Covid-19 vaccination hesitancy in Italy

Jonathan Franceschi, Lorenzo Pareschi, Elena Bellodi, Marco Gavanelli, Marco Bresadola (PLoS ONE18(10):e0291993, 2023)

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic reminded us how vaccination can be a divisive topic on which the public conversation is permeated by misleading claims, and thoughts tend to polarize, especially on online social networks. In this work, motivated by recent natural language processing techniques to systematically extract and quantify opinions from text messages, we present a differential framework for bivariate opinion formation dynamics that is coupled with a compartmental model for fake news dissemination.

Thanks to a mean-field analysis we demonstrate that the resulting Fokker-Planck system permits to reproduce bimodal distributions of opinions as observed in polarization dynamics. The model is then applied to sentiment analysis data from social media platforms in Italy, in order to analyze the evolution of opinions about Covid-19 vaccination. We show through numerical simulations that the model is capable to describe correctly the formation of the bimodal opinion structure observed in the vaccine-hesitant dataset, which is witness of the known polarization effects that happen within closed online communities.