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Information Cascades in Social Media Networking

In the present age, the sharing of information is dominated by internet traffic. More specifically, people frequently share information by reading what others are posting on media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and reddit, and posting according to what others have posted recently. This sort of information cascade acts like a filter for what information gets continued in social media, and what doesn’t. For example, there was recently a flurry of facebook and twitter posts falsely quoting Martin Luther King Junior as saying “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” Dr. King never spoke or wrote these words-the quotation actually came from a Penn State Graduate student”s facebook status.

Megan Mcardle, recounts how the fake MLK quotation came to be so ubiquitous across the internet. According to Ms. Mcardle, the quotation started off as part of a larger facebook quote by Ms. Jessica Dovey, a graduate of Penn State, which read as follows:

I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” MLK Jr.

Ms. Dovey’s friends had reposted this status, and their friends reposted that status (and this process continued as it often does on faceook), and eventually one facebook user had removed the quotation marks in his or her repost. Some number of reposts later, Penn Jillette posted the status without the quotation marks to his 1.6 million facebook followers. After 1.6 million people had the (false) information, the cascade had started. Additionally, the quotation made its way to twitter, which, as a result of the 140 character limit, limited the quotation to just the first sentence-the falsely quoted part. Social media users across the internet continued to either post the 100% falsely quoted portion of the facebook status, or the facebook status without the quotation marks.

It is clear to see from this situation how the rapid sharing abilities of the internet and social media sites caused an information cascade of false information. The quotation went from correctly quoted and punctuated facebook status to falsely quoted posts all over the internet in a matter of days. As the information that the facebook status was incorrectly quoted became more readily available, the cascade of facebook statuses stopped within a similar time frame. It is obviously apparent how fickle and extreme information cascades on social media can be. While falsely quoted MLK passages are hardly detrimental to society I fear that this sort of information cascade is possible to cause mass confusion in the future. I think its definitely within the bounds of the nature of current social media to cause an information cascade of incorrect information that can actually cause mass confusion because of the miscommunication of a major political event.









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November 2011