When and if a person decides to join a protest depends on his/her individual threshold of willingness to participate. A person with a higher threshold might need to be assured that “enough” others are joining before taking any action, while a person with a lower threshold might be more of an activist and even willing to lead the protest.

This is what Gizem Korkmaz, research assistant professor, Social and Decision Analytics Laboratory, Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech, has confirmed by modeling social networking sites using a game theoretic approach to identifying “players” and what it takes for them to join the collective.

“Knowledge of what players know about other players is crucial for coordination,” she continued. “This is referred to as common knowledge.”

Korkmaz and Fernando Vega-Redondo, a professor at Bocconi University, Milan, Italy, have developed the game-theoretic model, and have been collaborating with Christopher Kuhlman, research scientist at the Network Dynamics and Simulation Science Laboratory, Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech, to develop computational models of common knowledge.

Selected by the National Capital Region Faculty Association to present the Outstanding New Faculty Lecture, Korkmaz spoke to a group of National Capital Region faculty and staff about “Common Knowledge and Coordination on Social Networks: A Game-Theoretic Approach to Collective Action”.

“In authoritarian regimes, where a protestor risks prosecution and has a little chance of success, individuals more likely have a higher threshold, believing that risk that can be reduced only when a sufficient number of people coordinate their actions,” Korkmaz said during her presentation.

Social networks that represent local interactions are the core of her research, providing a communication mechanism that facilitates information sharing in a way that generates common knowledge within a group of individuals. Facebook particularly provides a model of contagion dynamics. By friends posting information on each other’s walls, they create common knowledge among groups of people within each stage of a protest or revolt, as well as provide information about earlier stages, Korkmaz noted.

“Our research model provides the dynamics that help determine inferences from individual type and action as well as insight into the diffusion process,” she said. “From there we can compare contagion spread by various mechanisms.”

In the next phase of her research, Korkmaz said she will be concentrating on laboratory experiments with smaller scale tests performed with all players in one physical room; online experiments with remotely located players: and neuroimaging experiments, including fMRI instrumentation, to determine if decisions to protest are made in different parts of the brain.

Published by Barbara Micale, December 15, 2016