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Google and Information Cascade Effects

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/30/opinion/google-influence-think-tanks.html

The article by Jonathan Taplin addresses the issues surrounding Google and the influence the company has over think tanks. As major tech companies come to dominate more of the U.S. economy and their prominence becomes more scrutinized, many have suffered backlash in regards to their monopolistic tendencies and ability to impact regulations over their profits. Google has funded hundreds of research papers defending against challenges to its dominance in the marketplace, propelling its way into agencies and congressional committees that oversee their business, like the Federal Trade Commission. Due to opaque company practices and motivations driven by high profit margins, many people in these think tanks find themselves in a moral dilemma: to voice their own support of an increased antitrust platform or to remain in silence and contribute to the lack of transparency.

The article mentions Barry Lynn, a former scholar at New America Foundation who was fired after writing a piece supporting “the $2.7 billion fine the European Union levied against Google for antitrust violations in June.” In doing so, some of the information cascade effects we have learned about in class are applicable here. Given what Lynn saw under his current circumstances and how aware he was of the stance that the think tank took, he had two options. These options were to either reflect the decisions of the think tank and support Google’s practices because of the major funding they provided for their offices, or voice his support of the levy against Google. The former action has a direct-benefit effect for Lynn, because by basing his decision with the crowd, or in this case his think tank, he could have avoided being fired from his job, retaining job security and a stable income. An informational effect would have been that by not writing the article because others at the think tank might have had more knowledge about the issues than he did, this could have outweighed his own private information and he would have chosen to join the crowd despite the murkiness in morals. As the think tank prospers, so does he and there may have been additional information others had that could have convinced him to follow the others in the think tank. The fact that he did voice his support against Google, however, shows he went against the general consensus, treating his own decision with greater importance than that of others in the network.

It is interesting to see the dynamic between think tanks and Google, where many feel beholden to the giant tech company because of their financial assistance and large influence over the economy. As scholars and congressional representatives advocate for policies that conflict with Google’s interests, it is important to note the rejection of some of these information cascade models and see how people will go against the crowd despite both informational and direct benefits.

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