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Information Cascades and Revolutions


From the Arab Spring to the fall of the Soviet Union, revolutions can take the world by storm. A collective effort by a significant population, a revolution must have to start from somewhere. How can we get a group of people to stand up and rise up against unfair regimes? As it turns out, information cascades play a large role.

The Arab Spring started in December 2010 in Tunisia. Specific oppressive incidences appeared on social media websites in forms of images and tweets. Soon, these type of posts were all over the internet across the Middle East. Information flowed within and between countries. People banded together for protests, inspired and empowered by the presence of others just like them.

This wave of political protest, as well as other revolutions, relate to our discussion on information cascades. For a revolution to occur, people must coordinate their actions. To do so, individuals must make a decision to rebel. Their decisions are influenced heavily by observing other people’s behaviors, actions, and attitudes towards authorities. If the observed people show signs of strong discontent, disobedience, or any signs of possible defiance, individuals are more likely to rebel, believing that there are enough people to form a strong rebellion against a weak regime. The people now think, perhaps, they have a chance of winning.

Even before the expansion of the internet and its social platforms, revolutions were brewing right under governments’ noses, thanks to information cascades from day-to-day physical interactions. The internet is just another tool of revolutions, and has the ability to take them to an international level. The Arab Spring could get off the ground because the potential and influence of social media communication were largely unexplored at the time, so governments could not actively repress the gathering and circulation of information.


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October 2018