The Production and Consumption of Social Media
We model social media as collections of users producing and consuming content. Users value consuming content, but doing so uses up their scarce attention, and hence they prefer content produced by more able users. Users also value receiving attention, creating the incentive to attract an audience by producing valuable content, but also through attention bartering—users agree to become each others’ audience. Attention bartering can profoundly affect the patterns of production and consumption on social media, explains key features of social media behavior and platform decision-making, and yields sharp predictions that are consistent with data we collect from #EconTwitter.
We thank Hunt Allcott, Erik Brynjolfsson, Paul Oyer, Evan Sadler, Yo Shavit, Alex Tabarrok, and Johan Ugander for their very helpful comments. We are grateful to Jie Lu for his excellent research assistance. Author contact information, code, and data are currently or will be available at http://www.john-josephhorton.com/. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.