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Information Cascades and terrorism

Information Cascades, as described in lecture, are unique due to their ability to dictate the actions of sizeable populations of individuals following the influence of a small group or even a single person. These cascades develop from people ignoring the information that they originally posses to base their actions instead on the decisions that others have made previously. As a result, socially speaking, things like fads and trends can happen when people see a type of clothing, music etc. that they would originally be heavily uninterested in, instead adopting it because of the popularity it possesses. The article above similarly refers to the influence that viral information can have, even when it comes to violent ideology; an increasing number of terrorist groups are relying on social media to encourage people to join their ranks, with their calls for members occasionally going viral, resulting in information cascades.

In response, Arizona State University is currently researching exactly what qualities influence what information will eventually go “viral”, in the hopes that eventually we will be able to correctly guess which terrorist messages will eventually become popular and take action to prevent their growth with more accuracy. Because some of these online messages can only become small-time fads, with others gaining enough traction through information cascades to become full-grown social movements, the solution to this problem is based not only around computer science, but also the sociological aspect of networks. By analyzing the message types and societal issues that tend to appeal to specific large online communities, they hope to create algorithms to deduce which posts will eventually make it big, allowing them to fight back against those groups using their own methods.


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November 2015