Dangers of Information Cascades

The modern world, with its 24/7 access to internet and being connected online allows for a lot of good things to happen. People can stay in communication with each other, they can warn each other about disasters, and they can help those in need on other sides of the world. However, this access and spread of information can prove to be very dangerous as well. This can be very clearly seen through information cascades on Twitter and Facebook according to Coye Cheshire, a social psychologist at Cal.

We know that information cascades result from seeing a few people doing something or agreeing with someone, and then you follow suit even though you may not actually believe that it is the right thing to do. You doubt your own beliefs because you think to yourself, “this many people are doing it, they can’t all be wrong…”and so you go ahead and join them. And then the person after you follows you, and the person after them, and so on. Now what happens when this happens through the global social media platforms…

This results in something that is potentially very dangerous to happen. People see a post on Facebook that is being shared a lot and commented on a lot, and instead of checking the validity of the post, they also share it. Or someone tweets out a picture and then a lot of people start retweeting it and soon its circling the internet. But, if that many people are retweeting and favoriting and liking the post, then it has to be true, right? NO. People tend to fall into these information cascades and simply follow suit and retweet that photo or link just because they also want to feel like they’re sharing the “newest” information out there.

This has caused some issues, with people photoshopping pictures quite easily and then posting on the internet. An example is that a Sikh man posted a selfie of himself using an iPad, then someone photoshopped the picture to be him holding up a Quran and wearing a bomb vest. Now if people start retweeting and sharing this photo across the internet, this man will be misidentified as a potential terrorist instead of the ordinary man using an iPad in his bathroom. Its the information cascade that people fall into that causes this danger.

The accessibility of the internet and the ease to press that retweet button causes people to forget their own judgement and jump into the cascade, without knowing if what they’re sharing is truthful or not. Furthermore, humans tend to have a feeling of power when shown proof that they started an information cascade. Logging onto Twitter and seeing the number of retweets of your tweet brings with it a feeling of accomplishment and worth. So with this comes the fear that more of the information you see on the internet could be false and just other users attempting to get likes or favorites.

This is not to say that all information cascades found online are negative and should be avoided, in fact they can often be beneficial, but we should be cautious of what we retweet. Double check the facts before you hit the share button.



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