Feeds

Study finds online commentards easily duped, manipulated

Just garden-variety chumps, really

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

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. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
DOUBLE BONK: Testy fanbois catch Apple Pay picking pockets
Users wail as tapcash transactions are duplicated
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
YARR! Pirates walk the plank: DMCA magnets sink in Google results
Spaffing copyrighted stuff over the web? No search ranking for you
In the next four weeks, 100 people will decide the future of the web
While America tucks into Thanksgiving turkey, the world will be taking over the net
Microsoft EU warns: If you have ties to the US, Feds can get your data
European corps can't afford to get complacent while American Big Biz battles Uncle Sam
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
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.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
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.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.