Decoding the Social World: Data Science and the Unintended Consequences of Communication
Decoding the Social World: Data Science and the Unintended Consequences of Communication

Decoding the Social World: Data Science and the Unintended Consequences of Communication

by Sandra González-Bailón

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Overview

How data science and the analysis of networks help us solve the puzzle of unintended consequences.

Social life is full of paradoxes. Our intentional actions often trigger outcomes that we did not intend or even envision. How do we explain those unintended effects and what can we do to regulate them? In Decoding the Social World , Sandra González-Bailón explains how data science and digital traces help us solve the puzzle of unintended consequences—offering the solution to a social paradox that has intrigued thinkers for centuries. Communication has always been the force that makes a collection of people more than the sum of individuals, but only now can we explain why: digital technologies have made it possible to parse the information we generate by being social in new, imaginative ways. And yet we must look at that data, González-Bailón argues, through the lens of theories that capture the nature of social life. The technologies we use, in the end, are also a manifestation of the social world we inhabit.

González-Bailón discusses how the unpredictability of social life relates to communication networks, social influence, and the unintended effects that derive from individual decisions. She describes how communication generates social dynamics in aggregate (leading to episodes of “collective effervescence”) and discusses the mechanisms that underlie large-scale diffusion, when information and behavior spread “like wildfire. ” She applies the theory of networks to illuminate why collective outcomes can differ drastically even when they arise from the same individual actions. By opening the black box of unintended effects, González-Bailón identifies strategies for social intervention and discusses the policy implications—and how data science and evidence-based research embolden critical thinking in a world that is constantly changing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262037075
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 12/22/2017
Series: Information Policy
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Sandra González-Bailón is Assistant Professor at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, and Research Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.

Table of Contents

List of Figures ix

Series Editor's Introduction xi

Preface xv

Acknowledgments xxi

1 Introduction: Decoding the Social World 1

1.1 Communication and Its Metaphors 2

1.2 The Social Cryptogram 5

1.3 Vast National Barometers 8

1.4 The Unpredictability of Social Life 12

1.5 Reasons and Passions 15

1.6 Book Outlook 18

2 Old Puzzles, New Evidence 23

2.1 The Law of Unintended Consequences 25

2.2 Self-Fulfilling and Self-Defeating Prophecies 31

2.3 Cumulative Effects 35

2.4 The Power of Communication 41

2.5 Why Focus on the Unintended? 43

3 The Effervescence of Collective Behavior 45

3.1 The Nature of Social Facts 48

3.2 The Rhythms of Communication 53

3.3 The Dynamics of Collective Attention 56

3.4 Unpacking Collective Effervescence 59

3.5 Collective Behavior Rehashed 65

4 The Social Logic of Influence 71

4.1 The Contagion Metaphor 74

4.2 Milling, Herding, and Wildfires 81

4.3 Exposure and Reference Groups 86

4.4 The Double Edge of Contagion 95

4.5 The Unpredictable Paths of Influence 97

5 Networks and Social Distance 99

5.1 Network Chains 102

5.2 Structure and Navigation 106

5.3 Components, Communities, and Cores 109

5.4 Dynamics and Layered Connectivity 115

5.5 Network Interventions 118

5.6 Hidden Architectures 123

6 Communication in Space 125

6.1 Collective Maps 127

6.2 Redefining Boundaries 131

6.3 Selection Bias and Digital Gaps 138

6.4 Cities as Laboratories 141

6.5 Measurement and Representation 144

7 Designing Policy and Action 147

7.1 Crowdsourced Problem Solving 151

7.2 Algorithms and Decision Making 157

7.3 The Two Sides of Privacy 162

7.4 New Forms of Activism 166

7.5 Networked Governance 169

8 Conclusions: Questions for Now and the Future 171

8.1 Which Form of Critical? 172

8.2 Unintended Effects or Collateral Damage? 174

8.3 What to Archive and Retrieve? 176

8.4 How to Control Networks? 177

8.5 When Is the Code Cracked? 179

References 183

Index 209

What People are Saying About This

Peter Bearman

In Decoding the Social World Sandra González-Bailón reveals what social science would have looked like if Gabriel Tarde had access to the data we have now—and it is beautiful.

From the Publisher

In Decoding the Social World Sandra González-Bailón reveals what social science would have looked like if Gabriel Tarde had access to the data we have now—and it is beautiful.

Peter Bearman , Cole Professor of the Social Sciences, Columbia University Decoding the Social World is motivated by a compelling and thoughtful preamble of the historical developments in technology and social thought and their bearing on one another. Sandra González-Bailón marshals these insights to offer a clarion call for a new generation of computational social science that leverages and contributes to advances in social theories, data science, and public policy. Her eloquence captures simultaneously the exuberance and caution as we embark on this adventure.

Noshir S. Contractor , Jane S. & William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University

Endorsement

Decoding the Social World is motivated by a compelling and thoughtful preamble of the historical developments in technology and social thought and their bearing on one another. Sandra González-Bailón marshals these insights to offer a clarion call for a new generation of computational social science that leverages and contributes to advances in social theories, data science, and public policy. Her eloquence captures simultaneously the exuberance and caution as we embark on this adventure.

Noshir S. Contractor, Jane S. & William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences, Northwestern University

Noshir S. Contractor

Decoding the Social World is motivated by a compelling and thoughtful preamble of the historical developments in technology and social thought and their bearing on one another. Sandra González-Bailón marshals these insights to offer a clarion call for a new generation of computational social science that leverages and contributes to advances in social theories, data science, and public policy. Her eloquence captures simultaneously the exuberance and caution as we embark on this adventure.

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