West Lafayette, Indiana - President Donald Trump recently hosted a social media summit at the White House featuring a who’s-who of conservative influencers. The meeting comes as many Americans begin to sound alarms about the subversive potential of social media to censor or sway voters during the 2020 general election, similar to tactics deployed by partisans and foreign actors during the last presidential election cycle.

Brad Alge, associate professor in the Krannert School of Management, for the past 20 years has studied how organizations can leverage the power of technological and social connections to influence and institute change among groups of people, particularly in a business environment. His most recent research found that although central members in a social network carry great power, they were shown to be more susceptible to being influenced by the network. As a consequence, Alge says, the network itself may be more susceptible to “group-think.”

“Central members of a social network can influence others and, as a result, have a lot more power, but they can also be the most influenced by the network. If, for example, an organization has the ability to influence a number of nodes in a network, and then those nodes in the network turn on the central members to influence them, that’s a way to spur a movement. In terms of presidential politics, social media are a conduit to our informal networks, and we can easily be influenced by our social networks in that space, whether it’s through real people or bots. Any entity or organization –  religious, political, whatever – could benefit from this.”