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Information Cascades in the Internet Age



One example of information cascades can be seen in the spread of a fake quote by Martin Luther King Jr. After the raid on Osama bin Laden many people were posting the quote “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. – Martin Luther King, Jr.” As it turns out, that quote is not even from Martin Luther King. A Facebook user put wrote that before quoting Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” People mistook the first sentence as part of the whole quote and people began to copy the first sentence as Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote. The quote went viral on Twitter and left everyone misinformed. This is an information cascade because after a few reposts everyone else assumed that previous posters were correct and thus believed the quote’s source to be MLK.

The information cascade effect is compounded by the use of Internet. Because people can simply hit “share”, “retweet,” or “like,” it is increasingly easy to spread false information. The irony of it all is that it should also be easier to verify information using the Internet. However, people don’t tend to verify information and will simply post because they tend to believe what they see many others posting, which is valid. The way to get around it is for everyone to more actively verify information they see using the resources they have.


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November 2015