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Fake New and Information Cascades

Source: and

Being one of the biggest political upsets in modern history, the election of Donald J. Trump still has many political commentators and analyst are trying to understand how such an upset could have occurred in an era with a supercomputer and hyper-precise data collection. Many believe that the massive influx of fake news on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter played a massive role in convincing the public that Trump was the superior candidate. The goes into further detail about how executives at Facebook, Twitter, and Google testified in front of the Senate and how tech giants are working with policymakers to help prevent the spread of fake news.

The controversy surrounding fake news also has a lot do with concepts we learned in class. The way news, and information in general, spreads is through information cascades. The idea behind the information cascade is quite simple. Much of our decision making is based on what we see our friends doing, as we make decisions after each other rather than all at once. This means that faulty information can easily spread because the credibility of the crowd often quickly outweighs the credibility of the source itself: breeding the perfect environment for fake news to spread so quickly, as it was able to do in the 2016 election. However, the way the network is setup also has a play into how the information spreads. If users only look at content they are likely to support, their ideas are sheltered which causes an echo chamber where similar minded people only hear similar viewpoints. These chambers are what lead to massive division. In fact, some contributed the rise of extremist viewpoints to these type of chambers, many of which existed on Facebook pages. 

All these notions are furthered by advertising algorithms that favor user engagement. This means that Facebook is inherently more likely to show content they know you will agree because you are more likely to engage with that content and thus leading to higher ad revenue for Facebook. So while Facebook has the means to solve the issue, it is in the sites best self-interest not to.

It is interesting that social media, something that was initially meant to connect the world, has made us just as much disconnect with each other, and it all ties back to information cascades.


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