There’s been new articles about the same phenomenon I wrote about in Mistakes and Improvements – why we humans despite all our knowledge and advances hold so many lies and errors as truth.
Lingering Lies writes about the factors that help false information to survive. There are many articles and books about this topic available, and the factors are well-known by now. Whether it be confirmation bias or our predisposition to favoring false-positives over false negatives, Wikipedia even has a category for biases.
However, a new study done at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute reveals how misleading information spreads through a society. Interestingly, neither the type of social network (they tested several) nor the kind or truth value of the information in question (both factors were not part of the simulation) matter for the surprising result. If more than 10% of a population unwaveringly hold to a belief, that belief will spread through the society. If less than 10% believe in whatever the bullshit of the day is, the disease will be contained.
The crucial element in the simulation is a question of social confirmation, well known to those who exploit these things. The basic assumption is that if someone tells you something, you are sceptical. But if a second person tells you the same thing, and then a third, and so on, many people tend towards joining what they perceive as the majority opinion.
In the simulation, many “volatile” opinions compete against one strictly held belief. Meaning the holders of volatile opinions change theirs, but the fanatics don’t. The important factor here is chance – you do not have to have a majority opinion for someone to think that you do based on local interactions.
And apparently, 10% is the tipping point.