The Power of Crowds

The Power of Crowds

By Perspectives One Comment     February 19, 2009

When Wikipedia first emerged, the idea of a community-built encyclopedia brought up concerns about reliability and accuracy. If anyone could edit the articles, how could we know the content was a reliable source of information? Through the power of the crowd – a global group of ”Wikipedians” sniffing out inconsistencies – the site was able to defeat the critics.

According to an article in Scientific American Mind, the “wisdom of the crowd” effect occurs when you ask a crowd a question, average their guesses, and the result you end up with is closest to the correct answer. If this is true, and consistency is a key to persuasion, can an experienced actor pull off a prank in today’s highly wired world or will the plugged-in crowd collectively conclude that it is a hoax even before the media professionals do?

For entertainment sake, the question for the crowd is whether or not the recent behavior and career move of Joaquin Phoenix is genuine. Some believe he is telling the truth and is going through a very public and emotional transition, while others have claimed his career move is a hoax, acted out in the interest of Casey Affleck’s documentary (the film does not have a title yet).

Here’s a bit of background on the topic. Last fall, the actor announced he was retiring in order to focus on his music career as a rap artist. So far, he has a contract with Sean Combs to produce an album and has performed in a club in Las Vegas. A YouTube video of the show displays the artist falling off the stage. Last week, his appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman was compared to disastrous interviews with Farrah Fawcett and Crispin Glover. His interview earlier that day with Cinema Blend writer Katey Rich, however, was quite coherent. Her opinion on the behavior of former actor was that he was being honest, reassuring her audience that “Joaquin Phoenix is not crazy, and none of this is a hoax”.

Reading through comments on YouTube for the Vegas performance, the opinion of the crowd believes the career move and behavior is very real (4 to 1). Comments on the Letterman interview, however, are more even with half claiming it’s a hoax comparable an Andy Kaufman stunt. The other half came to Joaquin’s defense, blaming the behavior on substance abuse and emotional breakdown while applauding him for making the bold career move.

It will be interesting to see what the documentary film reveals upon its release and if the crowd’s guess manages to either deflate rumors or punk the prank.

More on crowds:
The Rise of Crowdsourcing
The Wisdom of Crowds

Author Oya Voices

More posts by Oya Voices

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Lesley says:

    The crowd had another opportunity last night to guess if Phoenix’s career change and behavior is a hoax. The former actor turned rapper performed at LIV nightclub in Miami, this time jumping into the audience to confront a heckler. Casey Affleck was once again present to film the entire episode. Responses on YouTube shifted dramatically this time, with about 90% of the crowd agreeing the entire act is a hoax.

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