Thursday, 4 March 2010

Group Think in Social Networks

Group Think is the tendency for groups of like minded people to reinforce each others point of view. It is a concern that group think may dominate Interactive Democracy (and political parties). Social network groups, perhaps discussing political issues, may succumb to Group Think, engendering widescale conformism.
Duncan Watts, a sociologist at Colombia University has studied this issue. He recruited 14000 people on a social networking site and divided them into groups to rate music played by unknown bands. As the experiment progressed people were given more information about what others in their group preferred. Often songs that started off slightly more popular became even more popular as people within the group became more aware of others preferences. Members of a group eventually converged on the same songs. But other groups chose different songs and it was impossible to predict which groups would choose which songs. There was considerable diversity between the groups.
This evidence should be a warning sign for people who believe that politics should be the reserve of the Westminster Village and at the same time assuages the concern that mass Group Think, accelerated by our increasing internet interconnectedness, will dominate Interactive Democracy. Groups may coallesce around, work, religion, political party or any other institution, but there is sufficient diversity between them to avoid conformist thinking.

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