Terrifying Research on False Popularity in Social Networks

Terrifying research from the University of Southern California. The article is called The Social-Network Illusion That Tricks Your Mind. It’s about how human and social networks can be mislead into thinking something is common and popular when it’s not.

“That’s interesting work that immediately explains a number of interesting phenomena. For a start, it shows how some content can spread globally while other similar content does not—the key is to start with a small number of well-connected early adopters fooling the rest of the network into thinking it is common.”

What’s so terrifying about that? The issue is that Facebook distributes posts among friends based at least partially on early reactions to it. They may be applying a skewed amount of weight – and giving an untoward amount of power – to a small subset of users. This research could explain why viewpoints that are truly minority, or overtly antisocial, may get more visibility than they might otherwise. Now, add to that notion the research from Pew (pew pew pew!) that millennials use Facebook as their top source of political news – and you can come up with any number of nightmare scenarios about what information/data millennials are using to make their voting decisions.

This is why non-transparent algorithms suck.