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Information cascade and the harassment scandal

This article from the Financial Times discusses the information cascade phenomenon in the recently notorious series of sexual harassment scandal. From the very beginning of the scandal, Hollywood’s famous Harvey Weinstein, to Al Franken, a Democrat senator, to this week’s  Charlie Rose, TV interviewer of choice for the Davos set, it seems that such sexual harassment incidents were suddenly unleashed. However, we should be clear that sexual assault is a never rare phenomenon in no matter entertainment and politics or other realms. As these damages keep spreading,  this article thus questions, why are the scandals happening now? Is there a specific reason why victims are willing to stand out and speak for themselves all in a sudden? The power of digital information cascade contributes to it all.

There are two main reasons for this phenomenon: the timely use of digital media. Think about the fact that before decades, if a person were to complain about sexual harassment there would be a long legal process and possibly discrimination for homosexual people in proceeding the reports. As “powerless victims have a megaphone”, as described in the article, their voices are heard by people with the same experience. In the era of digital media, networks are easily congregated. It would hence influence people’s decision-making process as they could weigh the benefits and loss of making certain decisions in their close networks.  In this case, while one could simply tweet about his or her suffering, more people will know about it. Just as the Twitter campaign of “#metoo” that has gone viral on the internet.

As we have learned in class, information cascade has the effect when people in networks are making decisions sequentially. Since the truth may be extremely damaging for personal careers in fields like entertainment, following the crowded involves the least risk. In technical terms of this cultural reckoning, when more threshold fraction of victicms around a person exposes the truth, this person would change accordingly. As isolated victims congregate into a crowd, their power, especially with the magnifying effect of social media, is not to be underestimated.


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