Social Influence Leads to the Formation of Diverse Local Trends

Ziv Epstein

Epstein, Ziv, et al. "Social influence leads to the formation of diverse local trends." Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 5.CSCW2 (2021): 1-18.


How does the visual design of digital platforms impact user behavior and the resulting environment? A body of work suggests that introducing social signals to content can increase both the inequality and unpredictability of its success, but has only been shown in the context of music listening. To further examine the effect of social influence on media popularity, we extend this research to the context of algorithmically-generated images by re-adapting Salganik et al's Music Lab experiment. On a digital platform where participants discover and curate AI-generated hybrid animals, we randomly assign both the knowledge of other participants' behavior and the visual presentation of the information. We successfully replicate the Music Lab's findings in the context of images, whereby social influence leads to an unpredictable winner-take-all market. However, we also find that social influence can lead to the emergence of local cultural trends that diverge from the status quo and are ultimately more diverse. We discuss the implications of these results for platform designers and animal conservation efforts.

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