THE WISDOM and/or MADNESS of CROWDS (prototype!)

“The great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.”

~Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

Why is it that the same people, in different groups, can be kind, cruel, smart, stupid? In this explorable explanation on network theory, I'll show how the structure of a group itself — the "network" — can shape the people caught in its web.

INTERACTIVE! draw your own network:

How do networks change people? Here's one way: networks fool people. Just like how you see the earth as flat because you're on it, people may get wrong ideas about society because they're in it.

For example, consider binge-drinking among college students. Like all people, students look to their friends to get a sense of what % of their peers do some behavior:

(connections = friendships. thought bubbles
show # of binge-drinking friends, vs # of total friends. thought bubble changes to
when a majority of one's friends drink)

However, depending on the friendship network, people can be fooled into thinking that binge-drinking is more common than it actually is. A 1991 study showed that “virtually all students reported that their friends drank more than they did”. (which, if you think about it, is logically impossible!)

In fact, it's possible to fool everyone that a majority of people do X, even if people who do X are in a minority:

PUZZLE GAME! fool everyone into thinking a majority
of their friends binge-drink:

This is called the Majority Illusion, which also explains why people think their political views are a common sense consensus, or think a rare behavior is more common than it actually is.

The Majority Illusion is just one of the many ways networks shape people, for better or worse. Later, I'll flesh out this prototype to also explain small worlds, social contagion & other ideas from the new science of human networks!

Anyway, that's the end of my prototype! Let me know what you think about 1) this thing overall 2) whether the puzzle was too hard/easy 3) any other ideas about humans/network theory you'd like me to explain.

You can send me feedback via the Patreon comments or via Twitter replies. Thank you!

~ Nicky