From a horse ride in the US in the 18th century to a chain of cell phone calls in the 21st century: How information spreads? What can we learn from these cases beyond the technology?
How information spreads? In some cases, information (true as well as false) can spread fast. What are the mechanisms and factors at play?
One famous story is the story of Paul Revere (told in particular by Gladwell in the
Tipping Point) riding all night (on April 18, 1775) to announce the coming British invasion. Paul Revere set out to warn the areas north and south of Boston, knocking on doors delivering the message that the British were coming to seize a weapon's stash. He delivered his message with fervor and was believed and listened to. The local militia got ready to respond when the British soldiers arrived in the morning. On that same night, William Dawes, also set out on the same urgent errand to warn the towns west of Boston. Yet no one really listened to him...
Why the difference? According to Gladwell, Revere was a
"connector" who had a huge network and was trusted, while Dawes did not have a network.
In the context of this challenge, the question is then:
how do we find the connectors who are trusted and can spread the word?
Fast forward to the night of January 18th,2010, only 6 days after Haiti's earthquake. In Ghara, 5000 miles away from Haiti, Ghanaians started sharing the "news" that there was an imminent earthquake. The information moved from region to region through mobile phone calls and text messages, people urging friends and families to leave their home. Thousands of people took their possessions, left their homes, gathered in public spaces... By early morning, it became clear that no earthquake happened or was planned to happen soon. Various government agencies agencies gave interviews and urged the citizens to go back to their homes and normal lives.
at Berkeley, more than the technology, what mattered was the rumor itself. Indeed, the phone networks quickly became overwhelmed with the calls and text messaging but the rumor kept spreading. What played a role was the people who were central in "networks" and made sure to pass the information to all the people in their own network. People also mentioned several reasons why they believed this piece of information might be true: some elements - references to official institutions - mattered too.
Again in this case,
connectors and networks are key factors of success.
In the Ghana's case, there are also a few things to highlight about technology:
- Ghana has a network providing
24-hour connectivity, with a fierce competition between different providers offering very good deals
-In the last 10 years,
cheap phones have become available and
nearly everyone had a phone.