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Social Media - Wisdom of Crowds or Echo Chamber of Ignorance?

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From Phil Wainewright: Far from being a source of valuable information, social media services such as Twitter and Facebook have become channels for spreading panic and misinformation about the current swine flu outbreak. This illustrates a big drawback for enterprises considering making use of social computing - can we ever filter out what's useful from what's misleading?

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  • This question implies that there is a "gold" source of information which we can assume is not tainted. In some cases, as perhaps this current outbreak, disinformation may weigh more heavily than information in the social network. However, in some cases the purveyor of the disinformation are those sources that we might deem the "gold", e.g. the government or CNN, and our only source for clarity may be the masses with contradicting information.

    Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. This is a buyer beware information market and the source needs to be qualified in all cases.

  • Recall the words of James Surowiecki in Wisdom of Crowds in which he notes that there are four components that make this model work:

    #1 – Diversity: Differences of opinion.

    #2 – Decentralization: Think meritocracy. No one person selected the “answer?.

    #3 – Independence: People’s opinions formed mostly on their own and not overly influenced by the masses.

    #4 – Aggregation: A way to cull all the independent thoughts into a “cohesive whole?.

    When things like the “swine flu panic? or even stock market “panics? occur, what you find is that the overall group is biased in the same direction and that #1 (diversity) and #3 (independence) fall away. Surowiecki’s seminal, and somewhat paradoxical conclusion, is that “the best group decisions come from lots of independent individual decisions?.

    So, while it may sometimes feel like an “echo chamber?, it’s less the platform (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and more the “community? that is to blame.

  • Honestly, I have found more instances of MIS-information from mainstream media than Twitter. For example, Bloomberg (moscow) wrote about Swine Flu coming from meat. The speed of Twitter is part of its beauty...and that will always trump blogs & MSM

  • I personally see possible wisdom in a crowd, only where statistics is involved.
    When the crowd is a lot of people that express their opinion, this is just a lot of noise.
    Most people do not have something interesting to say or do not have the talent to tell it in an interesting way. Myself included.
    By the way, this is my problem with reality shows, the script writers are not professionals.

  • Phil, for enterprises considering making use of social computing, it is a big drawback to depend upon mass information if what they will be getting from the masses is the equivalent of mass gossip.

    Who Is The Right Crowd In The Cloud? Who should we listen to?

    It shouldn't be that we listen to mass-man, as Albert J. Nock might put it in his essay "Isaiah's Job". We should listen to the Remnant -- to those with the appropriate force of intellect and character to give us the right type of feedback to help them serve them better.

    You can read about it in my Who Is The Right Crowd In The Cloud post at my blog.

  • The dynamics of the Twitter social network does lend a little to the "echo chamber" effect but that's true of blogging as well.

    The point that Phil made about mis-information, while valid in some respects, fails to highlight the fact that Twitter like other Web 2.0 platform is based on an implied opt-in participation. If any "channel" is deemed unreliable, audiences/followers will self select out of the channel or fail to regard it as trustworthy on certain topics.

  • Neither. It is yet another interaction channel, with its own characteristics. And a large part of its value is how you use it. I view Tweeter as a means to know more about the activities of people I’m interested in, and let others know about things I’d like to share. I do not expect it to be a lead generation or surveying tool. I did so far derive a few bits of useful information I would not have gained otherwise, and enhanced a sense of a closer relationship with some of those I follow by gaining some trivia knowledge – something you do are not able to do in a purely professional communication. I must say that I still cannot imagine what I could do with Twitter if I would follow hundreds of active “Tweeters? – I think that it would reduce the value I get from it.

  • Health 2.0 web networks (rather than Social Networks) will play a much bigger part if the pandemic really takes hold. At the moment it's level 4, enough to propel a bit of twitter/facebook hyperactivity, but if it goes beyond this people will need more concrete health-based networks to get solid information. Twitter's group wisdom of 140 characters is of limited value other than a nudge somewhere else.

    nhsUnlocked, a British Health 2.0 site has set up a Swine Flu group for the eventuality that requires doctors and patients to be on the same network and interface with useful links (and, yes, a twitter feed). It invites doctors to share the same online space as patients - which is important if things deteriorate and reliable information is needed

    You can see the group at its inception here: http://nhsunlocked.org/group/swineflu

    Hoping that this becomes a storm in a teacup...

  • Could this discussion be any more ironic?

    That said, I think it's important to note that it isn't the medium that is responsible for fact or fiction, it is the publisher. Half-truths and unfounded opinion have been promulgated by word of mouth as well as main stream media for thousands of years. The reader is responsible for choosing a trusted source. This is unchanged.

    What social media has to offer is...
    1) equal access to media
    2) global audience reach
    3) accelerated dissemination
    4) visibility, and when not anonymous...transparency
    i.e., free, more accountable speech...really fast.

    Any enterprise that doesn't like that....well...it may as well not like democracy or free markets either.

    It's not going away...so the real question is how leverage the attributes above to work with it effectively to achieve your business goals.

    by Joel York
    at Chaotic Flow

  • When a community promotes or participates in a community based service like Twitter or Facebook,it's the community which controls spread of any misinformation. If there is no truth to it, the participant in that community will either disregard it or move out of the community. We can’t blame the social media platform, we as the participants take the blame or take credit for the things we do there.

  • Why filter? Maybe one sees noise because he/she is too close to the data. Before disregarding what is supposedly misleading, or irrelevant (i.e., making misinformed pre-supposition about the data), why not take a step back and allow mathematics to show various aspects of what is perceived as noise, and see if there could be hidden patterns, relationships and various trends to it? Then start exploring the data along the dimensions that are the most informative. For example, maybe the tweet contents are not that telling but the correlations between their geographic origin, their speed of delivery and authors' grouping amount to interesting pieces of information. It's also not just Twitter or Facebook comments that we should be paying attention to, but what is being said in parallel in other unstructured data -- blog postings, article comments, point searches -- that will reveal sentiments, such as emotional responses. Not paying attention to this raw intelligence is being short-sighted. Analysis should never be hampered by too much data, only by a lack of imagination (or curiosity).

  • Social networking suffers from the same challenge that every new technology that improves both the quantity and speed of information delivery: social networking does little to improve quality.

    JP is right - just like on the web it is the consumer's responsibility to judge the credibility of the source. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms do not make this task any easier...

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