Feeds

Study finds online commentards easily duped, manipulated

Just garden-variety chumps, really

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Internet forums often use reader moderation to determine which comments are the best, but new research suggests that tallying up and down votes for online comments is a poor measure of those comments' actual quality.

Oh, you may think you know who's brilliant and who's a troll in our forums, dear Reg reader – but according to a paper published in the journal Science on Friday, the so-called wisdom of crowds can often be misleading.

"When you rate things online, you are often exposed to others' ratings (either aggregated or listed individually)," Sean Taylor, one of the paper's authors, wrote in a blog post describing the research. "It turns out that this does impact rating decisions and creates path dependence in ratings."

Specifically, forum comments that receive positive votes are disproportionately more likely to be up-voted again, while comments that receive negative votes usually have those votes negated by positive ones shortly thereafter.

In other words, when people see that a comment has been up-voted, they tend to go along with the moderation in a "herd-like" fashion. When a comment has been down-voted, on the other hand, they tend to want to "correct" the moderation, producing an asymmetrically skewed snapshot of opinion.

Taylor and coauthors Lev Muchnik and Sinan Aral conducted their research by working with an unnamed "popular website that aggregates news stories" – not Reddit, they say, but something like it.

For a period of five months, the researchers randomly moderated every comment posted to the site – more than 100,000 in all – giving each an up vote, a down vote, or no vote at all (the latter comments being the control group).

They found that comments that received a random up vote were 32 per cent more likely to draw additional up votes than were comments in the control group, and those comments' final moderation scores tended to be 25 per cent higher than those of other comments.

Comments that received a random down vote fared differently. Other users didn't seem to jump on these negative ratings and drive them down further, as they did with well-rated comments, but often tended to up-vote the comments to cancel out the negative rating.

"Our experiment does not reveal the psychology behind people's decisions, but an intuitive explanation is that people are more skeptical of negative social influence," Aral told Science. "They're more willing to go along with positive opinions from other people."

The implication is that such positive voting can potentially be used to manipulate public opinion through chat boards, polls, and other online forums. But on the bright side, if there is an easy way to control just which way online herd behavior runs, this research wasn't able to find it.

"We conclude that while our manipulations do draw attention to comments and inspire more voting, they don't do it any systematic way that we can identify," Taylor said.

What do you think, dear reader? Is moderation of online forum comments to be believed? Or can comment moderation be used to sway public opinion like a virtual Pied Piper, herding online readers like a pack of gullible lemmings to the proverbial cliff? Naturally, here at El Reg we encourage you to make up your own mind. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
Lords take revenge on REVENGE PORN publishers
Jilted Johns and Jennies with busy fingers face two years inside
Yes, yes, Steve Jobs. Look what I'VE done for you lately – Tim Cook
New iPhone biz baron points to Apple's (his) greatest successes
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Sysadmin with EBOLA? Gartner's issued advice to debug your biz
Start hoarding cleaning supplies, analyst firm says, and assume your team will scatter
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
YARR! Pirates walk the plank: DMCA magnets sink in Google results
Spaffing copyrighted stuff over the web? No search ranking for you
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.