The Social-Network Illusion That Tricks Your Mind – (Terrorism As Majority Illusion)

The Social-Network Illusion That Tricks Your Mind

From the post:

One of the curious things about social networks is the way that some messages, pictures, or ideas can spread like wildfire while others that seem just as catchy or interesting barely register at all. The content itself cannot be the source of this difference. Instead, there must be some property of the network that changes to allow some ideas to spread but not others.

Today, we get an insight into why this happens thanks to the work of Kristina Lerman and pals at the University of Southern California. These people have discovered an extraordinary illusion associated with social networks which can play tricks on the mind and explain everything from why some ideas become popular quickly to how risky or antisocial behavior can spread so easily.

Network scientists have known about the paradoxical nature of social networks for some time. The most famous example is the friendship paradox: on average your friends will have more friends than you do.

This comes about because the distribution of friends on social networks follows a power law. So while most people will have a small number of friends, a few individuals have huge numbers of friends. And these people skew the average.

Here’s an analogy. If you measure the height of all your male friends. you’ll find that the average is about 170 centimeters. If you are male, on average, your friends will be about the same height as you are. Indeed, the mathematical notion of “average” is a good way to capture the nature of this data.

But imagine that one of your friends was much taller than you—say, one kilometer or 10 kilometers tall. This person would dramatically skew the average, which would make your friends taller than you, on average. In this case, the “average” is a poor way to capture this data set.

If that has you interested, see:

The Majority Illusion in Social Networks by Kristina Lerman, Xiaoran Yan, Xin-Zeng Wu.

Abstract:

Social behaviors are often contagious, spreading through a population as individuals imitate the decisions and choices of others. A variety of global phenomena, from innovation adoption to the emergence of social norms and political movements, arise as a result of people following a simple local rule, such as copy what others are doing. However, individuals often lack global knowledge of the behaviors of others and must estimate them from the observations of their friends’ behaviors. In some cases, the structure of the underlying social network can dramatically skew an individual’s local observations, making a behavior appear far more common locally than it is globally. We trace the origins of this phenomenon, which we call “the majority illusion,” to the friendship paradox in social networks. As a result of this paradox, a behavior that is globally rare may be systematically overrepresented in the local neighborhoods of many people, i.e., among their friends. Thus, the “majority illusion” may facilitate the spread of social contagions in networks and also explain why systematic biases in social perceptions, for example, of risky behavior, arise. Using synthetic and real-world networks, we explore how the “majority illusion” depends on network structure and develop a statistical model to calculate its magnitude in a network.

Research has not reached the stage of enabling the manipulation of public opinion to reflect the true rarity of terrorist activity in the West.

That being the case, being factually correct that Western fear of terrorism is a majority illusion isn’t as profitable as product tying to that illusion.

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