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Is China Propagating or Inhibiting Information Cascades? (fake nooz)

China is well known for their extensive censoring of the internet. I thought this had interesting implications because is this considered creating an information cascade or preventing ones from happening? The article discusses how apps like WeChat, which involve large social networks, allow the government to propagate misinformation to their users. A few months ago, WeChat launched an in-app fact-checker for articles…with a caveat. The app has the ability to remove articles from the rumors list as they please and in doing so, it legitimizes misinformation shared by the national government.

WeChat isn’t so popular here in the US, but imagine if the US government controlled Facebook and the information users could see. I was shocked when I reached the end of the article to find,

“In one troubling study covered by NPR, a case of “collective amnesia” seemed to have left China’s young people unaware of the famous Tiananmen Square student protests of 1989, which were brutally suppressed by the government. Of 100 students surveyed from four Beijing universities, only 15 were able to identify the location of the iconic Tank Man photograph taken in the eponymous square.”

But then I thought about it and it really isn’t that shocking knowing how information cascades form. It really doesn’t take that much for one person to convince another and a third, and before you know it, everyone is manipulated into believing a warped history. So it’s more like engineering a specific cascade by inhibiting certain (‘undesirable’) ones from occurring. Because using social media is kind of like cascading behavior in networks, everything is connected. If some fraction of my friends use WeChat, I’m bound to download the app and join in and then maybe one of my other friends does so because I was the last one of their ‘neighbors’ to adopt the product and it goes on and on. The cascading of government misinformation via social media ultimately originates from behavior cascades. If everyone refused to use the internet and information were spread all by mouth, perhaps it would be different. But this is not feasible and I feel like the government would find some other way to censor.

Thus, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that they choose what information they want the public to know. That is,  they cherry pick what cascades to create and manipulate the information in widespread social networks. Whether this is for the better (I personally disagree but eh, not sure if that’s totally unexpected), nobody can really do anything about it since anyone who dares speak out is promptly dealt with by the Chinese government. I’m interested in seeing how the situation evolves in the future.


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November 2018