Social Networks and Misinformation

I’d classify this as bitterly hysterical.

And no, it’s not just about Facebook and Twitter, or the current pandemic virus.

Social networks — whether online or face-to-face — are supposed to be sources of good information or advice. However they don’t work that way in either format, at least not in the US.

Found online

An experiment conducted at Carnegie Mellon University among 2,480 people determined that people in social networks will tend to

  • Delay making critical decisions
  • Withhold or delay delivering important information to others in their network or
  • Spread misinformation based on their own lack of knowledge.

The fact that this happens can’t come as a shock to anyone who uses online social media. The fact that it can be documented as a general behavior in all kinds of social networks in the US is at best rather depressing.

Could this be a factor in the lower voting turnout that we see in US elections?

Arguably, this makes the case for education. One of the goals should be to enable individuals to access original source materials and make independent judgments on issues, instead of relying on what others say. That’s particularly true when those in positions of authority cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

Sources:

  1. Hirokazu Shirado, Forrest W. Crawford, Nicholas A. Christakis. Collective communication and behaviour in response to uncertain ‘Danger’ in network experiments. Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 2020; 476 (2237): 20190685 DOI: 10.1098/rspa.2019.0685
  2. Carnegie Mellon University. “Benefits of social networks to disaster response questioned: Communication within groups not as helpful as anticipated.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 May 2020. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200528160559.htm

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