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New centre to study likes, retweets and upvotes

The Center for Information and Bubble Studies is to inquire into the nature of social proof in the age of social media

A newly founded Center for Information and Bubble Studies (CIBS), headed by Professor Vincent F. Hendricks and funded by a five year grant from the Carlsberg Foundation, is gearing up to investigate how social bodies can come to irrational conclusions.

The new centre is starting up in the Fall of 2015 with a EUR 1.92 million grant from the Carlsberg Foundation. It will be located at The Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen.

“The idea of CIBS is to uncover the dynamics and the structure of bubble phenomena across different disciplines, institutions and domains,” Hendricks says in a video introduction to his research.

Social proof

Most readers will be familiar with the destabilizing effects of economic bubbles in financial markets.

“We typically associate bubbles with situations in finance in which assets trade at prices far exceeding their fundamental value. Stock and real estate may get overheated, but the same goes for opinions on the web, social capital, recognition, and a whole range of other phenomena in science and society,” explains Hendricks.

The CIBS defines a bubble as “an (often) irrational way of collectively aggregating beliefs, preferences or actions based on social proof and determinate market conditions.”

The trouble with bubbles

Groups of individuals form beliefs (a phenomenon referred to as “social proof” by CIBS researchers), regardless of whether or not these beliefs are actually true.

Take any example of something that ‘everyone knows’ and the reader can quickly see how her own drive for truth can be suppressed when confronted with the complacence of common sense justification. Like financial bubbles, there is nothing intrinsically nefarious about information bubbles, in fact, we find them everywhere.

“One may accordingly speak of opinion bubbles, bubbles in connection with political programs, recognition bubbles, even science bubbles,” says Hendricks.

Strategies

CIBS differentiates in their own material between malignant bubbles, such as ‘unjustified twitterstorms’, from benign bubbles, which may be responsible for ‘stimulating or promoting everything from public health to intercultural understanding,’ as they write in published material in connection with the launch of the new centre. An example of the type of asset that the CIBS’s research will be studying is respect, the investment and return of which can be measured using social media, via comments, likes, retweets, and upvotes.

CIBS has divided its research into four work packages assigned to formal modeling, empirical studies, mechanism design, and science communication and public impact.

“The aim for the Center for Information and Bubble Studies is to come up with intervention strategies for malignant bubbles, while at the same time formulat[ing] recommendations for benign bubbles,” says Hendricks.

Readers interested in learning more about CIBS can find more information here.

universitypost@adm.ku.dk

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