(Credit: New Line Home Video) New research from the University of Copenhagen combines formal philosophy, social psychology, and decision theory to understand and tackle these phenomena.
“Group behavior that encourages us to make decisions based on false beliefs has always existed.
However, with the advent of the Internet and social media, this kind of behavior is more likely to occur than ever, and on a much larger scale, with possibly severe consequences for the democratic institutions underpinning the information societies we live in,” says professor of philosophy Vincent F. Hendricks at the University of Copenhagen.
He and fellow researchers Pelle G. Hansen and Rasmus Rendsvig analyze a number of social information processes that are enhanced by modern information technology.
Informational cascades and Sex and the City
Curiously, an old book entitled Love Letters of Great Men and Women: From the 18th Century to the Present Day, which in 2007 suddenly climbed the Amazon.com bestseller list, provides a good example of group behavior set in an online context:
“What generated the huge interest in this long forgotten book was a scene in the movie Sex and the City in which the main character Carrie Bradshaw reads a book entitled Love Letters of Great Men — which does not exist. So, when fans of the movie searched for this book, Amazon’s search engine suggested Love Letters of Great Men and Women instead, which made a lot of people buy a book they did not want. Then Amazon’s computers started pairing the book with Sex and the City merchandise, and the old book sold in great numbers,” Vincent F. Hendricks points out.
“This is known as an ‘informational cascade’ in which otherwise rational individuals base their decisions not only on their own private information, but also on the actions of those who act before them. The point is that, in an online context, this can take on massive proportions and result in actions that miss their intended purpose.”
Online discussions take place in echo chambers