Availability Cascades [Activists Take Note, Big Data Project?]

Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation by Timur Kuran and Cass R. Sunstein, Stanford Law Review, Vol. 51, No. 4, 1999, U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 181, U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 384.

Abstract:

An availability cascade is a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation by which an expressed perception triggers a chain reaction that gives the perception of increasing plausibility through its rising availability in public discourse. The driving mechanism involves a combination of informational and reputational motives: Individuals endorse the perception partly by learning from the apparent beliefs of others and partly by distorting their public responses in the interest of maintaining social acceptance. Availability entrepreneurs – activists who manipulate the content of public discourse – strive to trigger availability cascades likely to advance their agendas. Their availability campaigns may yield social benefits, but sometimes they bring harm, which suggests a need for safeguards. Focusing on the role of mass pressures in the regulation of risks associated with production, consumption, and the environment, Professor Timur Kuran and Cass R. Sunstein analyze availability cascades and suggest reforms to alleviate their potential hazards. Their proposals include new governmental structures designed to give civil servants better insulation against mass demands for regulatory change and an easily accessible scientific database to reduce people’s dependence on popular (mis)perceptions.

Not recent, 1999, but a useful starting point for the study of availability cascades.

The authors want to insulate civil servants where I want to exploit availability cascades to drive their responses but that’a question of perspective and not practice.

Google Scholar reports 928 citations of Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation, so it has had an impact on the literature.

However, availability cascades are not a recipe science but Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning About a Highly Connected World by David Easley and Jon Kleinberg, especially chapters 16 and 17, provide a background for developing such insights.

I started to suggest this would make a great big data project but big data projects are limited to where you have, well, big data. Certainly have that with Facebook, Twitter, etc., but that leaves a lot of the world’s population and social activity on the table.

That is to avoid junk results, you would need survey instruments to track any chain reactions outside of the bots that dominate social media.

Very high end advertising, which still misses with alarming regularity, would be a good place to look for tips on availability cascades. They have a profit motive to keep them interested.

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