SCIENCE

Even in the age of social media, the degrees of separation remain six

The Six Degrees of Separation Theory, which assumes that each person can be connected to any other in the world through a chain of knowledge with no more than five intermediaries, is one of the most popular and suggestive social theories ever created, and may still be valid today in the age of social networking.

It was in the mid-1960s when a Harvard professor sent a letter to an unknown farmer in Nebraska, hoping that, through a completely random network of contacts, the letter would reach its true recipient in Boston.

Today, a study co-ordinated by the Institute of Complex Systems of the National Research Council in Florence (CNR-Isc) - signed by researchers from Spain, Israel, Russia, Slovenia and Chile - has shown that connections on social networks resemble those found by Milgram in the 1960s.

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Six degrees of separation on social media
The Six Degrees of Separation Theory, which assumes that each person can be connected to any other in the world through a chain of knowledge with no more than five intermediaries, is one of the most popular and suggestive social theories ever created, and may still be valid today, in the age of social networks and the connections that are created on digital platforms.
Di Original uploader was Pilgab at hu.wikipedia - Originally from hu.wikipedia; description page is/
Frigyes Karinthy and Stanley Milgram
Karinthy was the first, in 1929, to theorise this concept in the story of the same name published in 'Chains1'. Stanley Milgram, on the other hand, was the one who attempted to empirically demonstrate the veracity of the theory. After selecting a random group of people, he asked them to send a package to a stranger who lived in Massachusetts, several thousand kilometres away. Each knew the name of the recipient, his or her occupation and where he or she lived, but not the exact address. Each of the participants in the experiment was then asked to send their package to a person they knew who, in their opinion, was most likely to know the final recipient. The result was that the packages arrived at their destination, and it took between five and seven steps for everyone.
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The study
Published in 'Physical Review X,' the study was coordinated by the Institute of Complex Systems of the National Research Council of Florence (CNR-Isc)-signed by researchers from Spain, Israel, Russia, Slovenia and Chile.
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The results of the study
These are the words of Stefano Boccaletti (CNR-Isc) coordinator of the study, taken from the fortunita.com website: 'Social networks are a dynamic hive of individuals who navigate the network in search of strategic connections. In doing so, they enact a constant cost-benefit game, the aim of which is to obtain the right connections, which place the individual in a central position. Surprisingly, we found that this process always ends with social paths of length around the number six, despite the fact that each individual acts independently and without any knowledge about the network as a whole'.
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Small world theory still valid
The small-world theory, or small-world effect, is a mathematical and sociological theory that holds that all complex networks in nature are such that any two nodes can be connected by a path consisting of a relatively small number of links. This is, however, a theory born of and based on analogical models, which in no way foresaw a globalised world to the extent that it is today. Instead, research has shown that, despite the huge amounts of data and algorithms, the social network still rests on the mathematical model of the 'small world'.
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Overcoming Milgram's experiment.
Boccaletti maintains that 'Milgram's experiment, although revolutionary, was of limited value as it was influenced by the few letters that actually closed the chain. Conducting this kind of research on such a broad and heterogeneous basis as social media shows that not only social networks, but many other complex systems develop according to the same principles.
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The evidence of Covid-19
Proof that huge complex systems only need a limited number of connections to spread around the world is provided by viruses, taking the recent Covid-19 into consideration. Indeed, the extremely fast spread of the Covid infection was further proof that, within six infection cycles, even a virus can quickly cross the planet.
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25/06/2024
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