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Information Cascades and Rebellions

Information Cascades occur in instances where people are making decisions one after each other, with each person aware of the decisions made by those before them. The person making the decision infers information from the decisions those before him have made. Information cascades occur everywhere from financial markets, social media, and politics.

“Information Cascades and Revolutionary Regime Transitions” by Christopher Ellis and John Fender describes how information cascades have influenced or been the cause of past rebellions and revolutions. For example, the protests in China in 1989 were caused by an information cascade. Before the Cultural Revolution in China, there was a limited amount of information flowing through the country, and from China to other countries. Then after the Cultural Revolution, information started flowing throughout the country. An information cascade occurred about democracy, and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 occurred, as Chinese people, many of them students, demanded democracy. They had seen democracy work in other countries, and now wanted it for themselves. The Chinese government cracked down upon these protests and started to censor a lot of things, removing many media figures, banning movies, newspapers, and books, as well as closing publishing companies.

Ellis and Fender go on to explain how Information Cascades were involved in the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Eastern European Revolutions of 1989, and possibly many more. Information cascades begin in these instances because some of the citizens in the society believe the government in power is weak enough that it can be overtaken in a rebellion. As the rebellion starts taking root, more people start hearing about it, and think that if the rebellion hasn’t been ended by the government, then the government must truly be weak, and that they should rebel. If enough citizens rebel, then the government is overthrown.

In the China example, we see that the Chinese saw how many people in other countries had a decision of what kind of government to use, and chose Democracy. Since they were unhappy with their government, they decided to try to change their government because they had seen people before them choose democracy and be happy with that choice.


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November 2015