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Cascading Riots

Riots are an interesting example of large crowds acting in unison. It seems logical to assume that this synchronized behavior has some network based driving force behind it; given that these riots often occur in absence of strong communication, it is worth considering whether individuals are being driven by personal information or by information cascade once a movement reaches critical capacity. The linked article argues that rioting is an imitative behavior, areas where rioting occurs typically have conditions appropriate for sparking a riot for a long time but nothing seems to happen. Eventually, one of these conditions or events reaches a critical mass to spark an information cascade; individuals whose private information would otherwise drive them to refrain from rioting observe the behavior in others and are compelled to imitate. “Perhaps they know something about the likelihood of punishment that I don’t, surely all of these people rioting suggests that its risk is lower than my personal information suggests.” Once this critical number of rioters is reached, the riot grows as the cascade builds to overpower individuals more and more reliant on their own personal information.

This argument for riot growth seems logical, although as with most crowd events it is difficult to determine if this is the sole reason. There are many other factors that likely all contribute in unison to the spark and uncontrolled growth of a riot; likely the event that sparks the riot could occur at a point where conditions are most favorable they’ve ever been for a riot to take place. Perhaps, rather than each individual looking to the growing crowd and changing their personal decisions, the riot occurs at a time and place where enough individuals realize through cost-benefit analysis that they’ve got less to lose than they stand to gain from a riot. Additionally, herd mentality it a powerful motivator of people; perhaps rather than them deciding that they’ve likely mis-evaluated the risk of the riot, they simply realize that a growing herd is gaining momentum and they are driven to support that herd.

 

 

http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2011/08/riots-sell-offs-cascades.html

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