In tweeted conversations about S. 1867, who listened to whom?

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed S. 1867, a military authorization bill with a special provision granting the U.S. military the power to put people into detention without charges and without any time limit. All classes of people are subject to detention without charge: Americans citizens and noncitizens, people living inside the borders of the United States and people living outside the borders of the United States. To trigger this power, all the federal government will have to do is accuse the person of being suspect of terrorist activities. It won’t have to substantiate those charges. The Senate had a chance to turn back this power by passing the Udall Amendment. By a 61-37 vote, it refused to take that chance.

Yesterday, people were still talking about the passage of this radical detention power. Some people were talking about Americans indefinite detention offline, and others were sharing the news online. The following graph draws from all posts to Twitter made yesterday that talked about S. 1867. An arrow drawn from one Twitter user to another signifies a person-to-person communication called a “mention.” Taken together, these two elements depict the network of Twitter talk about the indefinite detention bill on December 3, 2011.

December 3 2011 Tweets about S. 1867, the indefinite detention without charge bill, that mention other Twitter users

Software credit to the freely-available NodeXL package.

This “tweet network” features six people who were especially likely to be referred to in the tweets people posted about S. 1867. Four of those six are tied together by a wave of tweets referring to them in mutual combinations. The wave started at two points with Lee Perez [the black coexist icon] posting the following point of information: < -------twitter accounts of the traitors of S. 1867! Have Fun Guys!!! RT if u wish :)

and Picobee [the greenish Free Libya icon] sharing a positive variant:

Thanks!! @RonWyden & @SenJeffMerkley 4 voting against S.1867: Nat'l Def. Auth. Act, FY 2012 @oregonian @occupyoregon

Blogdiva [in glasses] and Occupy Oregon [dancer on top of the Wall Street bull] retweeted those tweets, generating in turn another round of sharing by a number of others.

Two other high-volume conversations on Twitter were isolated from this larger group. Texas Senator John Cornyn [grayscale portrait] was peppered by a series of critical tweets instigated by two of his constituents: thisisroxanne and Txeightyeight:

@JohnCornyn @thisisroxanne @kaybaileyhutch And who decides who is Al Quada, and who is not? All Americans have right to due process.

@JohnCornyn "any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces" - vague.

Others seconded these criticisms by retweeting.

And when Alex Jones of Infowars [color portrait] tweeted:

Terrorist Congress Declares War on American People: TheAlexJonesChannel | The passage of S. 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act...

14 others retweeted.

As the this social network graph shows, dozens of others engaged in small-scale conversations about S. 1867 and its implications for American freedom. The graph doesn’t show the 301 posts to twitter that day about S. 1867 that didn’t generate mentions by others.

This network is what real grassroots democracy looks like: multiple independent conversations being started on a subject from the ground up, some of which stay local and others of which spread horizontally from person to person and from group to group. To see a contrasting Twitter network that is characterized by reliance on mainstream media news stories, see this sociogram of tweets regarding Americans Elect, a 501c4 corporation that is seeking to nominate its own candidate for President.

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