Persuasion, News Sharing, and Cascades on Social Networks
35 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2021 Last revised: 6 Apr 2022
Date Written: April 5, 2022
We develop a game-theoretic model of sharing decisions among online users of a Twitter-like social network. Each agent is endowed with a subjective prior on an unobservable real-valued state, representing their beliefs on a topic subject to a binary vote. Agents cast their binary vote matching the sign of their expected belief on the true state. Prior to the voting stage, some agents receive a piece of news which impacts their belief. Those who receive the news update their belief and make a decision as to whether to share the news with their followers so as to influence their beliefs, and in turn their votes, given a nominal cost for sharing. We characterize the underlying news spread as an endogenous Susceptible-Infected (SI) epidemic process and derive agents’ sharing decisions as well as the size of the sharing cascade at the equilibrium of the game. We show that lower credibility news can result in a larger cascade than fully credible news provided that the network connectivity surpasses a connectivity limit. We further delineate the relationship between cascade size, network connectivity, and news credibility in terms of polarization and diversity in prior beliefs: We demonstrate that increased polarization reduces the connectivity limit whereas larger in-party diversity has a non-monotone effect on the connectivity limit, which depends on both the levels of polarization and in-party diversity. Our results provide a theoretical foundation for recent empirical observations demonstrating faster and wider spread of low-credibility and false information on social networks.
Keywords: Persuasion, Strategic News Sharing, Spread of Information, Social Networks
JEL Classification: D01, D82, D83
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation