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OWS: A Big Information Cascade?

Occupy Wall Street is a group of activists protesting on behalf of the 99 percent against the 1 percent. The 1 percent refers to the haves such as banks, the mortgage industry, and the insurance industry. The 99 percent refers to the have-nots, or everyone else. On Sept. 17, 2011, this group began protesting in the financial district and established camp in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. According to some protestors, the main idea was to replicate in some way the protests in places such as Egypt and Israel earlier in 2011 by staying for weeks or even months on end.

Over time, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been described as many different things by the media, but the most appropriate word has probably been leaderless. A frequent criticism of the protesters has been the complete absence of specific policy demands. In fact, despite the formation of the Demands Working Group in early October, it seems as if many of the protestors are protesting for reasons completely different from the original movement. For example, some people are protesting for jobs, some for an end to wars or lower oil prices, and then some are there to just spend time or get free food and shelter. A movement that once seemed to be unified in spearheading equality and justice now doesn’t seem as unified as before, and it might all be because of an information cascade.

An information cascade occurs “when people observe the actions of others and then make the same choices that others have made, independently of their own private information signals”. This same phenomenon might have been the very roots of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is why protestors today are so divided over what they’re actually protesting for. For example, if the initial judgments of Occupy Wall Street were positive, positive signals would have been transmitted to the public that might have convinced more people to join the movement. In another circumstance, if say one additional person joined the movement and told his friend about the merits of Occupy Wall Street (expressing a highly positive signal), the friend might ignore his own personal views on the protest and join blindly. Weeks in, that same friend might realize that protesting for “jobs for all” might not be his cup of tea, resulting in the divide within the movement that is so evident now. At the end of the day, the potential of an information cascade has enormous weight because depending on prevalence of the information cascade, Occupy Wall Street could either be a strong movement focused on bringing justice or a just a broken movement built around hundreds of different desires. Hopefully, the latter isn’t true.


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