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Information Cascades within Social Media

http://www.engadget.com/2015/11/19/paris-and-the-trail-of-social-media-misinformation

The above article discusses how misinformation can be spread through social media, specifically noting false statements regarding the recent tragedy within Paris. According to the article, false statements get spread around as truth on social media due to a cascading effect. Once a post (or tweet or article) receives enough likes, people begin to automatically assume that it is credible. Their logic is that a non-credible post would not have received a large number of likes, thus the post must be true. Historically, this has led to some very bad and ultimately false statements being spread through social media – including false convictions of crimes led by a mob of online social media users.

This article very closely mirrored our discussion of information cascades within class. Particularly, the article showed a practical example of how information cascades can be fairly unstable, despite appearing otherwise. Once a certain number of users like a misinformed post, a snowball effect occurs. More and more users like the post leading to a massive amount of likes. However, the article was deemed credible only be the first certain number of users who liked it – all the others simply followed the trend others had set before them.

So in practice, while a post may have a million likes and appear to be credible, the last 975,000 likes (and arbitrarily chosen number used for illustration) could have easily come from a large majority of people who did not check the credibility of the source and instead trusted the judgement of those who came before them.

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