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The Fall of the Soviet Union (And Other Regime Changes)

http://www.voxeu.org/article/riots-and-revolutions-digital-age

An information cascade is, essentially, a phenomenon where decisions are made based on the previous actions of others. This occurrence is relevant in almost every aspect of our society, but is most notably essential in political regime changes. Lately information cascades in regime changes have grown even more prominent with the development of new technology. For example, the Arab Spring in 2011 utilized social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook to unite the citizens of the oppressed nations, in addition to supporters in other countries, and ignite inspirational uprisings.

However, it is easy to forget that these technologies are fairly new, and information cascades are not solely restricted to Internet communication. The fall of the Soviet Union, for example, was successful in part because of an information cascade phenomenon that occurred in their working society. People not only make decisions based on what other people are saying on the internet, but also on their observed actions.

Thus, regime changes can be accredited to information cascades of the workers. Whether through Internet, observation, or word of mouth, when a worker hears of the possibility of rebellion, he assumes his government is weak and therefore is likely to join the cause. If enough workers become part of this phenomenon, the rebellion has a better chance of becoming successful.

The word of mouth and observation aspects of information cascades are the main reasons for extensive rioting and gathering of rebellious citizens. However, the quality of information is extremely vital to these rebellions (Ellis and Fender), and because of this the use of social networking has strengthened such uprisings. Word of mouth communication has the potential to get distorted, while a single tweet or Facebook status is read the same by all viewers.

 

Though we can see these rebellions being fueled by information cascades in examples such as the Arab Spring and the riots in the United Kingdom last year, rebellions are not limited to those of the social networking era. The French and Russian Revolutions, Tiananmen Square, and the fall of the Soviet Union can all be attributed to information cascades (Ellis and Fender). We can conclude that information cascades have had a tremendous impact on regime changes throughout history, with and without the use of the Internet.

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