“There is considerable interest in developing predictive capabilities for social diffusion processes, for instance to permit early identification of emerging contentious situations, rapid detection of disease outbreaks, or accurate forecasting of the ultimate reach of potentially viral ideas or behaviors. This paper proposes a new approach to this predictive analytics problem, in which analysis of meso-scale network dynamics is leveraged to generate useful predictions for complex social phenomena. We begin by deriving a stochastic hybrid dynamical systems (S-HDS) model for diffusion processes taking place over social networks with realistic topologies; this modeling approach is inspired by recent work in biology demonstrating that S-HDS offer a useful mathematical formalism with which to represent complex, multi-scale biological network dynamics. We then perform formal stochastic reachability analysis with this S-HDS model and conclude that the outcomes of social diffusion processes may depend crucially upon the way the early dynamics of the process interacts with the underlying networks community structure and core-periphery structure. This theoretical finding provides the foundations for developing a machine learning algorithm that enables accurate early warning analysis for social diffusion events. The utility of the warning algorithm, and the power of network-based predictive metrics, are demonstrated through an empirical investigation of the propagation of political memes over social media networks. Additionally, we illustrate the potential of the approach for security informatics applications through case studies involving early warning analysis of large-scale protests events and politically-motivated cyber attacks.”
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