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Social Media can Impair Rationality

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 10:03AM

Perhaps I am just an old soul, but I tend to get my news and information by more traditional means, while many people around me are kept informed by social media. It is definitely true that social media has the ability to quickly disseminate information, but what happens once we have that information? According to researchers at the University of Copenhagen, we cease to act rationally due to social proof.

Humans are social beings, so we are constantly looking for social cues of one form or another, to inform our actions and opinions. It used to be that you would have to look at people or a crowd of people to collect social information. Now with Twitter, Facebook, and other social media systems, we can rapidly acquire large amounts of social information in an instance. When combined with social proof, this can lead to some awkward situations. Social proof is the phenomenon where someone trusts those around him or her, assuming that these other people possess greater knowledge. Of course that may not be the case, but with the power to see up-votes, retweets, etc. immediately, social proof can have a significant impact on us, as we trust the crowd instead of verifying the information.

Last year a rumor spread so rapidly on Twitter that it caused the value of the Euro to drop a small, but meaningful amount, even though that rumor was false. What might be the impact next time a rumor spreads, and no one bothers to check it?

Source: University of Copenhagen

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