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Information Cascades from Twitter

A technology reporter for the New York Times, Jenna Wortham, published an article today about incorrect information cascades sparked by Twitter. The article describes Hurricane Sandy’s peak as a major topic for tens of thousands of twitter bloggers. The problem with this increased activity was that the information being spread was not accurate. The article summarizes the many falsehoods “including images showing the Statue of Liberty engulfed in ominous clouds and sharks swimming through waterlogged suburban neighborhoods quickly spread through the service, as did word that power would be shut off for the entire city of New York and that the floor of the New York Stock Exchange had been flooded.”

These blatant falsehoods are important because of the possible effect they can have. This sort of information allows for information cascades to form, where rational people misguided by false information, make irrational decisions. As the article puts it:

“While people are learning to accept information posted to the social Web with a large grain of salt, they may not be able to distinguish between useful updates and fake ones during a crisis or disaster, which can become dangerous. Bad information might set off an irrational decision that could lead to panic, or worse, put them in harm’s way.”

The article is relevant to the topics covered in class mainly because it has everything to do with information cascades. Information cascades occur when people abandon their own private information and tend to follow what earlier people are doing. The influx in false tweets regarding how people are reacting to Hurricane Sandy and the hurricane’s effects can cause for an information cascade that is wrong. In lecture we attributed many characteristics to information cascades including: cascades can happen easily, even with fully rational participants, cascades can be wrong, cascades can be based on very little genuine info, and cascades can be fragile. This article highlights most of these characteristics as it shows how the propagation of false information leads to even more false information through twitter as well as how people can make decisions based on this information.




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