Limited individual attention and online virality
of low-quality information
X. Qiu, D. F. M. Oliveira, A. S. Shirazi, A. Flammini, and F. Menczer (10 January 2017)
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X. Qiu, D. F. M. Oliveira, A. S. Shirazi, A. Flammini, and F. Menczer, “Limited individual attention and online virality of low-quality information,” arXiv:1701.02694 [physics], Jan. 2017.
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Four centuries ago, the English poet John Milton argued that in a free and open encounter of ideas, truth prevails . Since then the concept of a free marketplace of ideas has been used to support free speech policies and even applied to the study of scientific research . The theory draws analogies to natural selection, where the traits of a species determine its survival, and to economic markets, where the intrinsic value of a good determines its success. Two necessary elements of this theory are the diversity of ideas to which people are exposed and the discriminative power of the marketplace, which we define as its ability to allow better ideas to become more popular.
…cognitive constraints limit the number of social interactions we can sustain  and the number of ideas we can consider,giving rise to an “attention economy” [52, 27, 20, 9]
We assume the existence of an intrinsic measure of quality for each meme shared online, and explore how two critical factors — the number of competing memes and the finite attention of the participants — affect the system’s ability to select the best memes for survival and diffusion, while sustaining a diverse ecosystem of ideas.\
Weng et. al.  demonstrated that some memes inevitably achieve viral popularity irrespective of quality in the presence of competition among networked agents with limited attention.
The “wisdom of the crowd” enabled by social media  should also facilitate the discrimination of information based on quality by combining the diverse opinions of many individuals . But when people communicate, their opinions are no longer independent, leading to higher confidence and lower accuracy .
Confirmation bias may be reinforced online by our limited capacity to cope with the information overload caused by the messages that flood our screens  and our consequent need to quickly discard irrelevant information.
These selection processes may cluster people into a few homogeneous factions , often called “echo chambers”  or “filter bubbles” . This may further lead to polarization [57, 13, 56, 43]; one group may automatically discount ideas from another [39, 44].
This body of work suggests that, paradoxically, our behavioral mechanisms to cope with information overload may make online information markets less meritocratic and diverse, increasing the spread of misinformation [45, 18] and making us vulnerable to manipulation [48, 21].
Weng et. al. , who used an agent-based model to demonstrate that the combination of social network structure and finite attention of social media users are sufficient conditions for the emergence of viral memes.
In summary, an increase in information load corresponds to a decrease in discriminative power because quality has a lesser effect on popularity.
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