Hierarchical Models, Game Theory, the Arab Spring and… Facebook?

Posted on December 12, 2011

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In their paper – Cooperation, structure and hierarchy in multiadaptive games – Sungmin Lee, Petter Holme and Zhi-Xi Wu write:

To epitomize, our work shows a generalization of spatial social dilemma models where hierarchies can emerge in a cooperative state. In our framework, these hierarchies need stable cooperating hubs to persist. In this sense, the hierarchies are more the  result of an all-cooperative state than a prerequisite for its emergence. We note that in the literature, there are conflicting results on whether or not hierarchy promotes cooperation, or not—in different games the effect can be different.

The paper examines cooperation and defection about groups of people in the same game – “systems driven by a conflict between collective and individual interests, and the interaction happen between agents that are close in space.” Usually in these games, there is incentive for individuals to “defect” – taking from the group instead of ongoing cooperation as wealth of the group rise. In the case of the Arab Spring, the individual players remained coordinated and resolute in their cooperation with the group.

In his Charlie Rose interview, Mark Zuckerberg said that he felt the Arab Spring uprisings would have occurred with or without Facebook. He’s probably right- the desire for change this great could never spark from a single Facebook post or comment thread.  But I wonder if this research on multiadaptive games, when applied to social unrest and political uprisings, indicates that a cooperative platform like Facebook could be substantially more influential that he’s attributing.

The success of the uprisings required significant coordination of individual interests and the emergence of a hierarchy. In Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, Facebook became the cooperative hub for these hierarchies to exist and promote coordination.