TESTING A THEORY OF CULTURAL EVOLUTION WITHIN ORGANIZATIONS: EVIDENCE FROM ALT-RIGHT ECHO CHAMBERS
Job Market Paper
Social networks and organizational culture are deeply connected. However, the causal direction between the two is a thorny problem. We know cultural homophily can drive network formation, but what about the other direction? Can social network structure drive cultural and linguistic change? I take a two pronged approach: a formal model to help unpack the mechanisms, and an empirical test using a natural experiment from an Alt-Right online community on the Reddit platform. The natural experiment shocks the network, and we can look at linguistic change following this shock. This let’s me show causal evidence of the endogeneity of language to social network structure. Across several ways of measuring language use, including measures derived from contemporary advances in natural language processing techniques, I find that this shock causes a shift in language use away from the jargons of the Alt-Right community (including a decrease in hate speech).
CULTURAL STORAGE: THE ORGANIZATIONAL SHIP OF THESEUS
with Bruce Kogut
We investigate the ways that culture, and especially language, can encode organizational priorities and enable organizational memory. Culture's ability to encode priorities creates differences between organizations in which types of knowledge can be efficiently communicated. Like an organizational Ship of Theseus, we ask how much of the language of the original members remains when they have all been replaced. We find that by iteratively replacing every member of the organization, a substantial percentage of the updated language reflects the founding members’ priorities. Common language is a type of limited codifiability that makes certain (possibly tacit) routines and situations more efficient to describe within an organization. We test the model using data from a popular online strategic communication cooperation game. By exploiting a panel of partially overlapping teams, we find that players bring communicative routines with them when they join a new team, and are able to transfer this knowledge to the new team.
(PARTIAL) EXIT AND VOICE IN THE LABOR MARKET: EVIDENCE FROM THE DIGITAL WATER COOLER
with Natalie Carlson and Stephan Meier
We revisit Hirschman’s (1970) theory of exit and voice in the context of the gig economy, leveraging text analysis to analyze data from the largest online forum for Lyft and Uber drivers. Workers who are dissatisfied with an organization may express their discontent by exiting or by employing voice, options which are traditionally treated as substitutes. As outside options become more attractive, exit rises and voice falls. In updating the framework, we introduce the idea of partial exit - gig workers need not exit a platform entirely when dissatisfied, but rather can adjust their allocation of labor between platforms - and discuss the imbalanced power relationship between gig workers and employment platforms. We argue that under the conditions of platform gig employment, both exit and voice are likely to rise as alternative options improve. We empirically test our predictions in the ride-sharing market: exploiting time variation in Lyft's market share gains on Uber in 59 U.S. cities between 2014-2018, we analyzed posts from the largest online forum for ride-sharing drivers. Analyzing conversations at the ``digital water cooler'' allows us to quantify how drivers' discussions of the exercise of both exit and voice shift in response to market conditions. We show that as Lyft gained market share, drivers in those cities both increased their discussion of signing up and working for Lyft (partial exit), and increased their discussion of labor organizing (voice).
PEERING INTO CAREER CHOICE: PEER EFFECTS, ETHICAL HOMOPHILY AND SOCIAL PERSUASION
with Bruce Kogut and Dan Wang
We seek to unpack the mechanisms by which social learning operates, focusing specifically on ethical homophily. Using the random assignment of MBA students into learning teams, we evaluate the impact of prior industry composition of learning teams on students’ industry choices following the MBA program and find that peer effects are in general negligible, except in the case of ethical homophily (measured as LDA-based topical similarity on an ethical dilemma essay) where peer effects on industry choice become large and significant. The proposed mechanism is that ethical homophily makes communication either more efficient by means of a common language around ethics and values, or more persuasive because those values are shared.
FAKE NEWS VIA INTENTIONAL DISTRACTION
I develop a formal model of fake news as bias of the relative precision of signals rather than bias of the signal means. Under this type of bias, Bayesian synthesis of signals can be biased (compared to the true model) even though none of the individual signal means are biased. This model can help explain the "white noise" Twitter strategy of Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto and his PRI party during the 2010 presidential election. The PRI hired a small army of Twitter trolls to manage the impression of the candidate on social media. But while they were not actively hostile to the candidacy, neither did they promote the candidacy directly. Instead, they used a "white noise" strategy that magnified the noise during times of particularly bad news about Peña Nieto (e.g. claiming Justin Bieber had died). This type of fake news is realistically possible only in the wild west of digital information diffusion.
POSITIONING, STATUS, AND QUALITY IN A DYNAMIC INFORMATION ENVIRONMENT
I explore how firms should position themselves when the market cannot readily discern the desirability of their offerings. While there are some industries where the marketplace may have perfect information about product desirability, for others the marketplace may have at best a hazy or biased belief about desirability. Firms differ in status and in customer beliefs about desirability, and differences in status or beliefs may also drive positioning choices if these positioning choices have the power to affect beliefs. We begin by modeling this problem as an incomplete information game. Our formal results reveal how information quality and costs impact firm positioning choices and industry-level positioning heterogeneity, and how these change over time in reaction to changes in consumer access to information about desirability. In ongoing work, we test our predictions by leveraging shocks to the cost of information stemming from the staggered UK broadband rollout.
CLASHING FASHIONS AND INSTITUTIONS: MID-LIFE UNCERTAINTY IN INNOVATION DIFFUSION
in development with Eric Abrahamson and Kriste Krstovski
We use theories of fashions and institutions to examine whether, why, and when over five-hundred organizational techniques persisted relatively permanently or disappeared relatively transiently. In Neoinstitutional theory, the theory of fashions in organizational techniques tends to explain the causes of these techniques’ relative transience. By contrast, the theory of institutions in organizational techniques tends to explain the causes of these techniques’ relative persistence. By using natural language processing techniques, we examine how writings about the techniques during their upswing can predict whether that technique will persist or fade during their precarious mid-life period. Moreover, by examining the different ways that each type of proccess is written about, we gain insight into the processes of fashions and institutionalization.