Group Think: Trump social media summit shows power of social networks
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
President Donald Trump’s recent social media summit at the White House featured a who’s-who of conservative influencers. The meeting came as many Americans begin to sound alarms about the subversive potential of social media to censor or sway voters during the 2020 general election, similar to tactics deployed by partisans and foreign actors during the last presidential election cycle.
Brad Alge, an associate professor in the Purdue University Krannert School of Management, examines how organizations can leverage the power of technological and social connections to influence and institute change among groups of people, particularly in a business environment.
His most recent research on the topic, “The embedding forces of network commitment: An examination of the psychological processes linking advice centrality and susceptibility to social influence,” was published in Organizational Behavior and Decision Processes. It was co-authored by Patrick Bruning and Hsin-Chen Lin from the University of New Brunswick.
The researchers found that although central members in a social network carry great power, they were shown to be more susceptible to being influenced by the network. As a consequence, Alge says, the network itself may be more susceptible to “group-think.”
“Central members of a social network can influence others and, as a result, have a lot more power, but they can also be the most influenced by the network,” Alge says “If, for example, an organization has the ability to influence a number of nodes in a network, and then those nodes in the network turn on the central members to influence them, that’s a way to spur a movement.
“In terms of presidential politics, social media are a conduit to our informal networks, and we can easily be influenced by our social networks in that space, whether it’s through real people or bots. Any entity or organization — religious, political, whatever — could potentially benefit.”
Bruning, P. F., Alge, B. J., & Lin, H. (2018). The embedding forces of network commitment: An examination of the psychological processes linking advice centrality and susceptibility to social influence. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, vol. 148 (September), 54-69. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.obhdp.2018.07.002