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Paris and the trail of social media misinformation

Information cascades occurs when “an observer sees something and does the exact same thing despite one’s own beliefs or private information to the contrary”.  As discussed in the model in class and in the textbook, a person would copy others regardless of the private signal received because he/she observes a majority of others doing the opposite, meaning they must be correct or know something the individual does not.  This phenomenon is applicable not only to adapting new products, but also in the spread of rumors and information.

Professor Coye Cheshire of University of California, Berkeley, mentions that cascades can occur in situation as simple as choosing the brand with fewer left on the shelf of a grocery store because people tend to believe there must be a reason one is being bought more often than the other.  Rumors also spread due to confirmation bias, which has led to a Sikh man being mistaken as one of the suicide bombers in Paris because the photo of him holding an iPad was Photoshopped.  Another rumor after the terror attacks on Paris that was false but spread was the Eiffel Tower going dark in memory of the victims, though it goes dark nightly at 1am.

While information cascades have led to negative results of false information being spread, they have also had positive effects during the aftermath of the most recent terror attacks in Paris.  In this time of emergency, hashtags such as #PorteOuverte and #StrandedinUS spread on social media rapidly, allowing people to seek shelter and protection from those who were willing to offer it.  Consequently, these information cascades can be essential and critical to human society because to a certain extent, survival can depend on it.



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November 2015