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Information Cascades in the Spread of Fake News

Analysis —Senate Intelligence Hearing On Fake News, Free Speech And Russia

The article linked above discusses the spread of fake news, and more generally, the responsibility of information cascades in limiting individuals’ perspectives on topics. The article describes how after the recent elections, social networking sites have faced backlash for being partly responsible for propagating advertisements and content by Russian agents, and also limiting what perspectives one may see on their news feed. Since companies like Facebook make money by keeping people on their sites for longer, the article argues, they may often restrict a person from seeing the other side of a news story to keep them from getting agitated and exiting their sites. Information cascades created from social networks also “leads to echo chambers,” since people often believe their network on information, rather than trained critics and specialists.


I think the part of the article that most relate to our class is the part about information cascades. The example that comes to mind is what we learnt in class regarding the hypothetical experiment of students choosing red or blue majority-bags of balls based on what the person before them chose. Likewise, on social media sites, if one person in a polarized network (say conservative vs. liberal) makes a decision to believe a Russian government-posted advertisement regarding the American election, then it starts an information cascade where more and more people believe that potential conspiracy over what news anchors and specialists claim on TV. In other words, the increase in probability that the news  is true leads to an increased Expectation E(X), making an individual act on previously made decisions by a group of people. I found this interesting, and I also think it is worth thinking about how the networking sites can be changed to enable exposure to more than one perspective on the internet. One way this could be done is for these sites to try inserting into a person’s news feed articles/posts from the other end of the political spectrum for every few posts they see on their own side. This way the ratio will be more balanced out, hopefully leading the information cascade to be hindered a little bit.


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