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Volume 573 Issue 7772, 5 September 2019

Gerrymandered minds

Information gerrymandering can change the way we think about political decisions, as depicted in the cover image. People must integrate disparate sources of information when deciding how to vote. But information does not always flow freely — it can be constrained by social networks and distorted by zealots and automated bots. In this week’s issue, Alexander Stewart and his colleagues describe a voting game to probe the relationship between information flow and collective decision-making. In the game, players were assigned to competing parties and placed on a social network that determined whose voting intentions they could observe. The researchers showed that certain network structures can sway the vote outcome towards one party, even when both parties have equal size and each player has the same influence — a phenomenon they call ‘information gerrymandering’. A small number of zealots, when strategically placed on the network, can also induce information gerrymandering. Using real-world examples, the team demonstrates that collective decision-making is vulnerable to systematic distortion by information gerrymandering and automated zealot bots.

Cover image: Kelly Krause/Nature

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