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2012 IEEE/WIC/ACM International Conferences on Web Intelligence and Intelligent Agent Technology

Why do people use Social Media?

Agent-based simulation and population dynamics analysis of the evolution of
cooperation in social media
Graduate School of Engineering
The University of Tokyo
Tokyo, Japan

Faculty of Business Administration
Rissho University
Tokyo, Japan

social media. Information in social media has the characteristic of a public good because it is available to anyone
with the proper permission. One of the schemes proposed
to enhance users contributions of such public goods centers
on the norms and metanorms games created by Axelrod[2].
In these games, non-cooperators receive punishment from
the other players. However, it is nearly impossible to punish
non-participants in social media. Another scheme is to give
rewards to contributors; however, whether this is effective
is debatable. For example, some studies ([4], [9]) reported
that a punishment system is more effective than a reward
In this study, we clarify the necessary conditions to
motivate users to voluntarily provide information in social
media, and toward this end we use the framework of a
public goods game to describe user behaviors such as posting
articles and comments.

AbstractWhy do people use social media, even though they

must pay certain costs for generating content? The purpose of
this study is to answer a more pointed question: What type
of mechanism can encourage the continuous participation of
users in social media? To address this question, we clarify
various conditions that must be met to motivate users to
voluntarily provide information in social media. In this work,
we use the framework of the public goods game to describe
user behaviors such as posting articles and comments. We
first describe the communication carried out in specific social
media by extending the metanorms game, which issues both
rewards for cooperation and punishments for non-cooperation.
We further develop a simulation model to clarify the conditions
needed to create a cooperation-dominant environment, which
we define as a world where nearly everyone cooperates in the
sense used in game theory. From the results of our agentbased simulation, it is clear that the rewards for cooperation
and the rewards for rewards given by others can work to
encourage cooperation. Furthermore, we analyze the relationships between the costs and benefits of cooperation by using
dynamics analysis. Consequently, we clarify that cooperative
behaviors are dominant when the benefits of cooperation are
larger than the costs of rewarding other users.

There have been many studies on social media. Ahn[1]
analyzed Cyworld in Korea, which is a large-scale network
whose nodes exceed 10 million. Toriumi[11] classified more
than 5,000 small-sized SNSs from the viewpoints of network structures and communication patterns, and Kwak[7]
analyzed twitter data. Akshay[6] discussed the relationship
between users interactions and their behaviors.
Some studies on social media have focused on their
institutional design. Toriumi[10] used an agent-based approach to examine the methodology of promoting the type
of system utilization that is effective in activating social
network services. The objective of each of these studies
was institutional design for a specific social medium. On
the other hand, there have been few studies on analyzing
the mechanism of voluntary participation in general social
Studies on users motivations to provide information in
social media usually adopt a social psychological approach
using questionnaire surveys. Miura[8] conducted an investigation of questionnaire surveys given to personal blog

Keywords-Social media, Metanorms game, Reward, Punishment, Agent-based simulation, Population dynamics analysis,
Evolutionarily stable strategy

Many types of social media such as Facebook and Twitter
have been developed over recent years, and these have
attracted many users. In social media, many users voluntary and continuing provision of information creates many
kinds of values. Users incur costs for creating and posting
information in the course of their participation, and thus
non-contributors have incentives to engage in free-ride
behavior. To avoid this problem, many social media provide
feedback systems to enhance users voluntary participation,
such as comments and the Like! buttons on Facebook.
What type of mechanism can social media use to encourage the continuous participation of users, even though
these users pay certain costs for generating content? Much
information is submitted and many participants share it in

978-0-7695-4880-7/12 $26.00 2012 IEEE

DOI 10.1109/WI-IAT.2012.191

Faculty of Business Administration
Soka University
Tokyo, Japan


strategy. From these previous studies, punishment appears

more effective in maintaining a cooperation-dominant community.
Is such a relationship between punishment and reward
effective for communications in social media? To address
this question, we extend the norms game and describe
the communication in social media by using such an
extended game, a General Metanorms Game, which is able
to describe both reward for cooperation and punishment for
As shown in Figure 1, the structure of the game is as
follows. Consider a group of N agents. Any agent i has
three probabilities: Bi , Vi , and Li . Agent i cooperates with
probability Bi and defects otherwise. If i sees an action of
any other agent j, i punishes j with probability Vi when j
defects or rewards j with probability Li when j cooperates.
If agent i defects, then all of the other agents in the group
gain H while i gains T . Generally, H is negative. If agent
i punishes agent j, then i gets P and j gets E. Generally,
0 > P > E. This is the gist of the general norm game we
adopt in this paper. A general metanorm game additionally
implements a rule in which k punishes j if agent k sees
that agent j does not punish agent i, despite js seeing is
defection. In that case, k punishes j with probability Vk ,
and k and j get E and P , respectively. We then extend
this game as follows. In the case where j punishes i, then
k rewards j with probability Lk , and if so, j and k get C
and R , respectively.
In a similar way, if agent i cooperates, then i and all of
the other N 1 agents get F and M . If agent j sees agent is
cooperative action, j rewards i with probability Lj , and if
so, i and j get R and C, respectively. Furthermore, if agent
k sees j reward i, k rewards j with probability Lk , and if
so, k and j get R and C , respectively. If agent k sees
that j does not reward i despite js seeing is cooperation,
then k punishes j with probability Vk , and if so, k and j
get E and P , respectively. Note that the issue of whether
any agent sees the others actions is omitted in Figure 1.

authors in order to clarify the psychological and social

process associated with why authors continue to write their
blogs. As a result, it was confirmed that being satisfied
with benefits to self, relationships with others, and skill in
handling information had significant positive effects on the
intention to continue blog writing. Also, Qian[5] found that
bloggers who target audiences of friends and family are more
likely to post identifying information to their blogs.
These studies imply that the chains of communication,
such as reciprocal motivation or utility for maintaining
relationships with others, are important for sustaining the
motivation to participate. However, it seems to be unrealistic
to enhance a punishment system on social media. This is
why we consider it is important that not punishment but
reward can be described in the study on social media using
the framework of public goods game.
A. Framework of Norms Game
As an extension of the n-persons prisoners dilemma
game, a norm game is a game for promoting cooperation
in a group by implementing a behavioral principle in which
players punish non-cooperators. Such a game is one of
the models that can be applied to many types of public
goods issues, as observed widely throughout the world.
For example, this game can be compared to an interestopposition problem among nations with the goal of limiting
emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. At
a micro level, on the other hand, we may consider a policy
of using drop-off sites for trash collection in residential
areas. One of the essential objectives in the norms game
is determining how to control free-riding for public goods
and how to achieve a cooperative society. In order to reach
these goals, a rule of punishment for non-cooperators is
implemented as a key concept for maintaining cooperation
in the game.
Another approach to the cooperation problem in the public
goods game is to reward cooperators. Can a reward work
as an alternative mechanism for maintaining cooperation?
Generally speaking, the effect of a reward is smaller than
that of a punishment. According to an experimental study
on examinees by Sutter[9], which tried to compare rewards
for cooperators with punishments for non-cooperators in
a public goods game, almost all of the subjects chose
punishment in the final turn, while many of them chose
not punishment but reward in an early turn. A theoretical
study by Hilbe[4] also insisted that punishment is more effective than reward because punishment and reward have an
asymmetric relationship. In other words, punishment is not
needed after establishing cooperation, and thus cooperators
do not need to pay the costs of punishment. On the other
hand, the attainment of reward always requires participants
to pay costs while they are behaving under a cooperative

B. Model of social media in General Metanorms Game

1) Overview of model: Generally, posting articles is beneficial for all of the other uses. On the other hand, users
who post articles have to pay costs. Therefore, the action
of posting an article is regarded as a kind of public goods
game whose payoff matrix is that shown in Table I, where
Nc , F , and M mean the number of cooperating participants
(users who post articles), cost to post, and benefit received
by reading articles the others post, respectively.
Communication in social media is generally done by the
actions of a user first posting an article, followed by other
users contributing comments or pushing the Like! button.
Furthermore, we often observe that comments are added
to previous users comments on the original article. We
can understand these actions as an instance of the general


Figure 1.

General Metanorms Game

Table I


F + (Nc 1)M \ F + (Nc 1)M
Nc M \ F

metanorms game shown in Figure 1 with T = H = E =

P = E = P = C = P = E = P = 0. This is
because these communications in social media are regarded
as rewards for cooperation or rewards for rewards given by
others. Therefore, we call such a public goods game a meta
reward game, and we develop a model of social media by
using this meta reward game.
In the meta reward game, agents repeatedly play an
N-persons prisoners dilemma game that consists of the
following two steps.

F \Nc M

and Li means the probability that i posts a comment. Thus,

one agent is presented as a 6-bit string. This string is called
the gene of an agent.
In a game at period t, any agent is given a seeing
probability Sit (0 Sit < 1). If Sit < Bi , then agent i
posts an article, or otherwise does nothing. In the case of
posting, i pays cost F for posting and the neighbors of i
(all of the agents connected to i directly) gain benefit M by
receiving information on the article. Accordingly, the posting
action is regarded as a cooperative one in the context of
the prisoners dilemma game. Next, every agent j who is
a neighbor of i decides whether to post a comment for is
article. The agent sees is article with probability Sjt . In that
case, j posts a comment to is article with probability Lj . If
j posts it, j pays cost C for posting and i gains benefit R.
Finally, any agent k who is a neighbor of j decides whether
to post a comment on js comment. k sees js comment
with probability Skt , and in that case, k posts a comment
on js comment with probability Lk . If k posts this, k pays
cost C and j gains benefit R .

1) Playing meta reward game

2) Evolving strategy
In the following, we explain these steps.
2) Playing meta reward game: We model a posted article,
a comment on it, and a comment on the comment in social
media. First, we make a network in which N agents as nodes
connect all the others as links. The meta reward game is
played in the network. Here, we use a perfect graph for
simplicity. Any agent i has two parameters: Bi of 3 bits
and Li of 3 bits. Bi means the probability i posts an article,


One generation consists of four periods. After playing

the game over four periods, every agent calculates its total
payoff. Here, the fitness value of an agent is defined as its
total payoff.
3) Evolving strategy: At the end of a generation, an agent
evolves its strategy by using a genetic algorithm (GA). The
agent selects two agents who become parents from among
the agents neighbors, including itself. Here, the probability
that agent i is selected, i , is defined as

(v vmin )2
! i
j (vj vmin )

Table II
Cost for posting article, F
Benefit for reading article, M
Cost for posting comment on article, C
Benefit for reading previous comment, R
Cost for posting comment on comment, C
Benefit for reading previous comment, R


Table III


Benefit of defecting, T
Harm by defecting, H
Cost for punishment, E
Harm by punishment, P
Cost for meta punishment, E
Harm by meta punishment, P

where vi means agent is fitness and vmin means a

minimum value of the fitness among all of the agents. Here,
the fitness is regarded as a payoff of each agent.
Each agent makes a new gene by crossover of two parents
genes. After that, the agent evolves the new gene as its own
gene. In this paper, each gene locus changes randomly with
probability 0.01. When a locus is changed, the 0 and 1 values
of the locus are reversed.


game and meta punishment game. Each simulation runs 10

times with different random seeds. Figures 4 and 5 show the
average cooperation rate and average probability of posting
articles at the 100th, 1,000th, and 10,000th generations in
the meta reward game and in the meta punishment game,
respectively. The X-axis indicates the size of the population,
N , the y-axis indicates the number of generations, and the
z-axis indicates the average probability of posting an article.
These figures clarify that cooperation is maintained in the
meta reward game while cooperation collapses after a long
run in the meta punishment game.
It should be noted that the above observation conflicts
with some theoretical studies, such as those by Sutter[9]
and Hilbe[4]. However, those studies did not consider
meta reward (reward for rewards by others) and meta
punishment (punishment for punishments by others). The
case of the non-meta punishment game is omitted because
Yamamoto[12] already confirmed its effect. Therefore, it is
clear that the existence of a meta reward system contributes
significantly to the evolution of cooperation in the reward
game with a small number of users.
Summarizing the above, we verified that cooperation
collapses in long-term simulation in the meta punishment
game and that a sufficient size of population is needed for
cooperators to be dominant. In the meta reward game, on
the other hand, we observed that a high level of cooperation
is achieved, although this does not necessarily mean that a
perfect level of cooperation is attained.
From the viewpoint of using social media, we can conclude that a users voluntary participation disappears in a
system that punishes a user who does not post an article.
Moreover, the evolution of cooperation cannot prosper in a
system where each user only posts comments on the others
articles. This is because the users motivation to post a


A. Meta reward game and meta punishment game
First, we compare our game with Axelrods model to
verify the effectiveness of our meta reward game. Here,
we call Axelrods game a meta punishment game because in his game a player only punishes other players
defects. Therefore, his game is a special case of our general
metanorms game with F = M = C = R = C = R =
E = P = C = P = 0.
Table II shows a set of parameters of the meta reward
game, and Table III shows that of the meta punishment
game. These parameters are based on the Axelrods meta
norm game[2]. As shown in these figures, each set of
parameters reverses the values of the other. We simulate
10, 000 generations in the case of N = 10, 20, , 100.
First, we show Figure 2 as the result of simulation with
N = 20 in the meta reward game. The horizontal axis means
the number of generations and the vertical axis means the
average probability of posting an article, B, and that of
posting a comment, L. This figure shows that both B and L
maintain high values, especially when L closes at 1.0, and
thus cooperation is established.
Although the basic conditions of the meta punishment
game (Figure 3) are the same as those of the meta reward
game. However, its outcome varies dramatically. Cooperation dominates in the early generation; however, its clear
that cooperation collapses and defect strategies are dominant
after a period of time. Such a phenomenon was found in a
study by Yamamoto[12], especially in the case of a smallsized population and simulation over a long time.
We next investigated transitions in the degree of cooperation while varying N between 20 and 100 in the meta reward


Figure 2.

Figure 3.

Figure 4.

Simulation of meta reward game

Simulation of meta reward game with different numbers of

Figure 5. Simulation of meta punishment game with different numbers of


Simulation of meta punishment game

Q & A sites the questioner both incurs high costs for

the reward (posting an answer) and receives high benefit
from the reward. To investigate this situation, we analyze
the influence of parameters of payoffs on the evolution of
cooperation. Furthermore, we use a simulation to find the
balance between reward and cost that promotes cooperation
and, therefore, enhances voluntary participation in social
First, we set the basic parameters in the same way as
shown in Table II in the case of N = 20 and ran the
simulation for 1, 000 generations. The parameters of reward
and meta reward are variable, and thus R = R = r and
r are controlled between 0 and 10 to observe the average
probability of posting an article, B. Our simulation runs
100 times with different random seeds. Figure 6 shows the
results with reward, with r on the horizontal axis and the
average probabilities of posting an article and comment on
the vertical axis. It was clearly observed that cooperation
dominates when r exceeds 2. This suggests that in the case

comment is still low, and thus few articles get posted over
time. However, by implementing a meta reward game, that
is, a system in which participants make comments on the
others comments on an original article, users have greater
motivation to post comments, and thus they can gain high
payoffs for posting. As a result, such a system promotes
users voluntary participation.
B. Influence of payoff
Next, we tested the influence of parameters in the payoff
matrix on the evolution of cooperation. The parameters correspond to costs and benefits of an agents actions in social
media. These costs and benefits depend on the function of
social media. For example, the Like! button1 on Facebook
gives a cooperative action (posting an article) something
like a reward; however, a user who clicks this button has
little cost. On the other hand, we can assume that on the
1 A function of pushing a button to express approval of another users
posted article. All of the participants can view the number of times the
button was pushed, and so the poster can observe how well his or her
article was received by others.


Average B


Figure 6.

Figure 7.

Influence of reward



Influence of benefit and cost on evolution of cooperation

is maintained in the meta reward game while cooperation

collapses in the meta punishment game under the assumption
of a homogeneous population.
The expected payoff of agent Ai with strategy (bi , vi , li ),
Ui , is defined as shown in Equation (2), where the number
of agents is n.
The first line of this equation presents Axelrods norms
game, and the second line presents Axelrods metanorms
game. In a similar way, we show the first-order reward on
the third line, the second-order reward on the forth line,
the reward for punishment in the norms game on the fifth
line, and the punishment for doing nothing for the first-order
reward on the sixth line. It is clear that the meta punishment
game corresponds to the general norms game of F = M =
C = R = C = R = E = P = C = P = 0, and the
meta reward game corresponds to the general norms game of
T = H = E = P = E = P = C = P = E = P = 0.
We explore ESS (Evolutionarily Stable Strategy) by analyzing population dynamics. A strategy is an ESS if and
only if it is robust against any mutant. When each member
of the population with the same strategy (bi , vi , li ) is robust
against any mutant, Equation 3 must be satisfied as well as

of C = C = 2, cooperation is established when the

benefit for rewards is higher than the cost for rewards.
We then simulated the influence of both benefit and cost,
that is, r and C = C = c. Each simulation runs 10
times with different random seeds in the case of N = 20 for
1, 000 generations. Both c and r are varied between 0 and 5.
Figure 7 shows the results with cost c on the X-axis, reward
r on the Y-axis, and the average probability of posting an
article, B, on the Z-axis. As the figure shows, the condition
in which cooperation dominates is r > c. Additionally, we
have confirmed that this tendency does not depend on the
size of the population, N , which here varies from 20 to 100.
Summarizing the above, we can conclude that the quantity
of posted articles is large when the benefit received for a
rewarded action (posting a comment) is slightly greater than
the cost for performing that rewarded action in social media.
The rewarded action considered here must include a psychological payoff. Therefore, it would be advantageous for
the designer of a social medium to create a situation where
participants feel more pleasure in receiving comments from
the other participants than in making comments themselves.
In the case of Q & A sites, the ideal situation would be
when the quantity of pleasure a user feels when getting an
answer is much greater than the quantity of effort required
to make that answer. Moreover, Facebook is successfully
eliciting participation because the cost of clicking is little
but its an action that brings a poster much pleasure.

bm = bm
OR bm = 1 AND U
OR bm = 1 AND U
bm bm ,



where (bm , vm , lm ) is the strategy set of a mutant. That

is to say, if Equation 4 is satisfied, the incremental value
of the expected payoff of a mutant, whose bm is slightly
larger than bi (the value of B of the entire population), is
greater than that of the population, and thus such a mutant
can invade the population. As a result, the component of

It must be difficult to mathematically analyze a heterogeneous population and their interactions, such as communications in social media. However, by employing the strong
assumption of a homogeneous population we may be able
to find a type of saturated solution. Such an approach might
help us to understand the performance of heterogeneous populations. Here, we clarify mathematically why cooperation



= T bi + H


bj + E





b2j + P


b3k (1 vj ) + P

1 vi

(1 bj) + C










k=i j=i,k


(1 bj )2 + R


b3k vj + R


k=i j=i,k

(1 bi )2






(1 bk )3 lj + R

k=i j=i,k

b3k vj








F (1 bi ) + M


k=i j=i,k







(1 bk )3 lj


k=i j=i,k
b3k lj




k=i j=i,k

(1 bk )3 (1 lj ) + P

(1 li )



k=i j=i,k

(1 bk )3 vj ,



k=i j=i,k

B in a dynamic vector at this position points in a positive

direction. On the other hand, if the direction of the inequality
sign is inverse, the dynamic vector at this position points in
a negative direction.


In a similar way to calculating the condition that satisfies

ESS, we can plot vector diagrams of V and L. These
diagrams show population dynamics, but only under the
strong assumption that all of the population is homogeneous (same strategies). We can clarify the performances
and mechanisms of the population by combining dynamic
analyses and simulation results. Here, we set T = 3, H =
1, E = 2, and P = 9 in the meta punishment game
and F = 3, M = 1, C = 2, and R = 9 in the meta
reward game, as with the first simulation shown in section
IV. Moreover, we set the size of the population to n = 20.
Figure 8 shows the dynamics (vector diagram) of the meta
punishment game. In this game, the two-dimensional behaviors, (B, V ), are plotted because the parameter li disappears.
An equilibrium point which is close to (B, V ) = (0, 1) is
then observed. However, it is unstable because it is easy to
move the different phases with even a slight perturbation
such as mutation, and thus almost all of the cases go to a
robustly stable equilibrium point, (B, V ) = (1, 0).
Figure 9 shows the dynamics of the meta reward game.
As with the meta punishment game, the vector diagram of
(B, L) is plotted.
There are equilibria points at (B, L) = (0, 1) and
(B, L) = (1, 0). The dynamics from almost all areas reach

Figure 8.

Dynamics of the meta punishment game and its equilibria

(0, 1), which means that all of the participants cooperate

(posting articles) and give rewards (posting comments). As
in the results of our simulation, cooperation is robustly
maintained in the meta reward game while cooperation
collapses after a time in the meta punishment game.
We also observe that the rate of posting articles fluctuates
while the rate of posting comments is stable (L = 1) in
the results of our simulation of the meta reward game.


network that is not a perfect graph. Some future works

might help to design a certain type of social media with
a mathematical foundation, although this may be designed
on an ad hoc basis among the developers who are designing
social media.
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In this paper, we treated the communication behaviors in

social media as a public goods game by using the framework
of a proposed general metanorms game. We also clarified the
mechanism of posting articles in social media by modeling
their communication behaviors. There is little punishment
in social media; instead, there are reward systems such as
comments on posted articles and comments on comments.
We analyzed the conditions under which cooperators are
dominant by using such a reward model. As a result of our
analyses, it became clear that the existence of meta rewards,
either reward for cooperation or reward for rewarding cooperation, works to promote cooperation. Moreover, according
to our analysis of the influence of the costs for reward and
punishment, cooperation becomes dominant if the benefit
for reward exceeds the cost for reward, regardless of the
amount of reward. This insight suggests that users voluntary
participation may be promoted when the degree of pleasure
obtained for getting reactions to ones posted article is much
greater than the cost of submitting such reactions.
In the future, we plan to analyze our model in a strict
mathematical sense. We also need to clarify how the mechanism of meta reward promotes the evolution of cooperation.
For this purpose, we have to analyze the details of behaviors
of each agent. Moreover, the network structure needs to
be extended. In a real social medium, users form a social

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