One of the things I take from Sunstein’s work is that people don’t rely only on their own judgments; they think in social networks. We use informed others in our network to filter the mass of cultural products that are out there. If a highly confident member of your group thinks something is cool, you’ll be more likely to think it’s cool. If holding a certain political opinion or liking a certain band will help you fit in, you’ll probably do so. If a group of like-minded people get together, they will tend to push one another to a more extreme version of their existing views.
In his paper, Sunstein cites a study done by Matthew J. Salganik and others that illustrates the immense power of social influence. The researchers recruited about 14,000 people to a website where they could listen to and download 48 songs. Some of the people were divided into subgroups where they could see how often other people in their subgroup downloaded each song. Sunstein summarizes the results: “Almost any song could end up popular or not, depending on whether or not the first visitors liked it.” If people saw the early champions downloading a song, they were more likely to download it, too (emphasis added).