Using Gossips to Spread Information: Theory and Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial
58 Pages Posted: 10 Jun 2014 Last revised: 18 Jun 2017
Date Written: May 6, 2017
Is it possible to identify individuals who are highly central in a community without gathering any network information, simply by asking a few people? If we use people's nominees as seeds for a diffusion process, will it be successful? We explore these questions theoretically, via surveys, and via field experiments. We show via a model of information flow how members of a community can, just by tracking gossip about others, identify highly central individuals in their network. Asking villagers in rural Indian villages to name good seeds for diffusion, we find that they accurately nominate those who are central according to a measure tailored for diffusion - not just those with many friends or in powerful positions. Finally, we run a randomized field experiment in 213 other villages that tests how effective it is to use such nominations as seeds for a diffusion process. Relative to random seeds or those with high social status, hitting at least one seed nominated by villagers leads to more than a 65% increase in the spread of information.
Keywords: Centrality, Gossip, Networks, Diffusion, Influence, Social Learning
JEL Classification: D85, D13, L14, O12, Z13
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