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Misinformation Cascade

Following terrorist attacks in various parts of the world, sites such as Facebook and Twitter flooded with posts regarding the attackers and victims. Countless countries received word of the attacks minutes after they were implemented, demonstrating the power of modern technology, but with such a medium comes those who hunt for online attention. False information regarding the Eiffel Tower and Uber drivers proliferated on the web, reaching millions of users who take these posts as gospel because so many have shared or liked it. Some information may be harmless, such as a claim that the tower turned off its lights in memory of the Paris victims, but others can ruin lives and spread fear and hatred toward a people or a religion. A Sikh man’s picture was doctored to show a Quran and suicide bomb vest, which was later featured on a news channel.

It is well established that information cascades occur when the public is exposed to a new product or service. Nowadays, with the rise of social media and an instant global information network, one can access news from a hemisphere away as it happens. However, with the advent of such networks come those who rapidly circulate false information. Although credible news often spreads the same way, these “likes” and “shares” proliferate through the lack of fact checking. When someone reads an article, regardless of its truthfulness, it “anchors” in their mind and serves as source of confirmation bias, even if that person does not share the views in the article. This is the basis of an information cascade, as we learned in class. Even if information goes against what the person knows or has experienced, they pass it on because they see that so many before them has passed it on. This is an unfortunate product of this information age, but follows the same trend as cascades observed in simpler networks with less dire outcomes.




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