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Cascading Behavior in Social Media

This article describes the phenomenon of fake news in Jakarta — In just two months, the Indonesia National Police have arrested more than a dozen people who have been involved in propagating fake news online. This is a country that is relatively new to social media and have not received adequate education in how to use online resources safely, and now people are continuously terrified by news of fake plane crashes and kidnappings, among others.

However, because the police has been cracking down so strictly on spreading false information online, there are some innocent people who have also been accused. For example, ex-teacher Baiq Nuril Maknun took a recording of a conversation between her and her headmaster who was making unwanted sexual advances. When this tape went around the Internet, Maknun ended up being the one sent to prison because the police accused her of spreading indecent materials on social media.

I believe that this article is relevant to what we learned in class about cascading behaviors in networks. People who are users of social media are like nodes, and if they are friends with each other, that is equivalent to having an edge between those nodes. We are bombarded with all sorts of information on the likes of Facebook and Twitter every single hour, every single day. The difference between a post that is glanced at for a few seconds and another that is seriously looked at, is the number of people who have already liked, commented or reposted that post. Each one of us has a threshold q in our minds — only if q people, specifically q of my friends, have expressed support in this issue, then I will show my support for it too.

In this manner, fake news is very easily propagated if it gains enough traction through our individual social networks. When we see our friends talking about or reposting news, we do not usually evaluate whether the news is true, but we simply believe that it is when a sufficiently large number of our friends already believe it is. This is a form of information cascade. In the unfortunate situation that Baiq Nuril Maknun faced, it does not matter if some people believe or used to believe that she was right in exposing her headmaster to social media. When a large enough number of people believe that this is a form of indecency, it is the sad truth that many just hop on the bandwagon, and are comfortable reaping the benefits of being in the majority.



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November 2018