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Information Cascades Targeting Immigrant Populations

WeChat, a mobile messaging and social network app created by Chinese developers, is facing scrutiny for its lack of transparency around how it produces and ranks its content as well as the role it played in catalyzing information cascades that spread fake news before, during, and after the U.S. presidential election. This information cascade takes place in a unique intercontinental social network. Of WeChat’s 889 million monthly users, the majority of its users are either based in mainland China or are part of the growing Chinese immigrant population in the U.S. Unlike other social media platforms, WeChat doesn’t track trends through hashtags or number of likes, as most social interaction is not posted in a public virtual space as with Twitter or Facebook but through private posts within groupchats and the like. Instead, WeChat allows for designated content creators, called Official Accounts (OAs), that are in-platform sources of information that are then shared via groupchat by social network users. In this manner, misleading right-wing headlines and memes such as “Illegal Immigrant Started Wildfire in Sonoma County” and “Liberal media threatens to violently destroy Mount Rushmore” spread throughout the private and semi-private networks of WeChat, propagating bias and prejudice within its user base.


The social network created within WeChat is comprised of clusters of users who are connected by private groupchats and Official Accounts which play the role of information or source nodes. What makes this information cascade dangerous is the closed,  the lack of regulation of its source nodes and the isolated nature of its clusters. The threshold to become an OA is relatively low, and the market for OAs is saturated, with 10 million designated OA accounts posting unregulated content that is shared with users, thus reducing the credibility of the OA designation. Secondly, because the clusters only have access to a predetermined information channel, and they do not have access to the other parts of the network the signaling processes are restricted. Because WeChat does not operate or post to a public, open network, users cannot see how other parts of the network react or process the content. Without the signaling of likes or trends that to some extent lend posts credibility on Facebook and Twitter, information are more susceptible to passing on  faulty information.



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