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Researchers Show How Easy It Is To Manipulate Online Opinions 115

Posted by samzenpus
from the yes-we're-all-individuals dept.
jcatcw writes "A recent study shows that a single random up-vote, randomly chosen, created a herding behavior in ratings that resulted in a 25% increase in the ratings but the negative manipulation had no effect. An intuitive explanation for this asymmetry is that we tend to go along with the positive opinions of others, but we tend to be skeptical of the negative opinions of others, and so we go in and correct what we think is an injustice. The third major result was that these effects varied by topic. So in business and society, culture, politics, we found substantial susceptibility to positive herding, whereas in general news, economics, IT, we found no such herding effects in the positive or negative direction."
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Researchers Show How Easy It Is To Manipulate Online Opinions

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  • OK (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:46PM (#45020735)

    I agree with that.

  • Listening PS? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Austrian Anarchy (3010653) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:48PM (#45020755) Homepage Journal
    There you go Popular Science, a cure for what ails you.
  • by themushroom (197365) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:49PM (#45020765) Homepage

    Because it's easier to see a +2 comment go to +5 due to people seeing the comment than a 0 comment from an anonymous coward get any altitude at all.

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @08:58PM (#45021285)

      Because it's easier to see a +2 comment go to +5 due to people seeing the comment than a 0 comment from an anonymous coward get any altitude at all.

      That's only part of the equation. If you want to karma whore, you do three things; First, post early. Second, attach comments to highly rated ones (or ones you think will be). Third, don't be like me; Always go with the party line. Especially once your karma is 'excellent' because no matter how many upmods you get, it only takes one or two angry moderators to click your page, go into your history, and blow all their points on you to burn your karma out... and several people have multiple accounts here. I've run across them and had my karma croppy-flop from excellent to neutral in just a few minutes because I told an Apple fanboy their god was dead.

      • >> Apple fanboy their god was dead

        Johnny Appleseed is dead? I didn't even know he was sick!

        • Died of cyanide poisoning.
        • by slick7 (1703596)

          >> Apple fanboy their god was dead

          Johnny Appleseed is dead? I didn't even know he was sick!

          Dutch Elm Disease
          A tree fell on him
          Broke a limb
          I hear the operation was a success
          But the patient died
          Who died?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @09:49PM (#45021585)

        sorry girlintraining,

        I have read many of your comments. Sometimes they are great and insightful constructed logically such that even if you disagree you can understand it is genuinely constructive, earning you heaps of karma,

        Sometimes you say some pretty heavily debated shit. No doubt burning your karma to the ground.

        Basically, the reason you flip-flop on karma, is because you flip-flop in the quality of your comments. Not because you told an apple fanboy that apple didn't invent the tablet.

        • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @01:31PM (#45026965)

          Sometimes you say some pretty heavily debated shit. No doubt burning your karma to the ground.

          You don't learn how to make comments that are "great and insightful constructed logically" by avoiding heavily debated positions. I reply to anyone, even anonymous cowards, if I think they have a point. Many a time I have played devil's advocate, arguing with someone whose position I agree with, because I felt their argument was sub-par. Arriving at the right conclusion for the wrong reasons to me is no different than reaching the wrong conclusion -- you should have a solid argument regardless of what side you're on.

          I count amongst my friends conservatives and liberals alike, and frequently debate both of them to the point both think I'm on the other team. But it's more important to me that people think critically about their own values and positions and have good reasons for holding to them, than that they agree with me. For example, there's a lot of things Apple does right -- they have spent a LOT of time, money, and effort, on making a simple and intuitive UI for many of their products. This is a solid point in Apple's favor. But they also have used slave labor to produce those products, the work atmosphere even here in the United States has been described as toxic, and they have a very aggressive legal department to protect their overpriced products. Those are all things in the negative. Does that mean that the product might be so good that we can ignore all these things? Quite possibly, if you value that enough. In which case, that's fine -- if that is what you place a premium on, that's a totally valid position. But if you think that all comes at too high of a cost, that's a valid position too. I can see it going both ways -- but saying that Apple has none of those negative qualities, while embracing the good qualities, is a cognitive error, and I will come down on you like a bag of bricks for it.

          I find it more important for people to be able to critically reason out why they hold the positions they do, than which position they hold. This means that yeah, I get into heavily debated areas and get modbombed for it... but I'm okay with that too. They may be punitively -1'ing me, but I hope that, despite their anger, I at least made them think about something they hadn't considered... even if they won't admit it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        "... and several people have multiple accounts here. I've run across them and had my karma croppy-flop from excellent to neutral in just a few minutes because I told an Apple fanboy their god was dead."

        Haha. (Not laughing at the karma thing, because I've run into it before, more than once.)

        But just think about the KIND of person who does that.

        First, sock-puppetry is generally considered to be a hangin' offense in online forums like Slashdot.

        Second, they are SO upset by your "non-mainstream" comment that they risk (however slightly) ostracism for signing into a sock-puppet account (Anonymous Coward counts here) to mod you down. They could not argue with you honestly, so they backstabbed you instea

      • by AHuxley (892839)
        Yes the mod aspect on slashdot can be interesting to tame. I have seen sockpuppets try a few things.
        1) Submit a variety of stories to give their main 'name' political and tech cover later.
        "See I" like tech too, "see I" think of rights too, but then on an issue/comment they will work hard to change the political conversation.
        2) Comment as a AC to see what "works": jokes, more left leaning links, right wing foundations, direct personal attacks or passive agreement with slight corrections.
        3) Return to
      • Pardon me, I mis-wrote. You can't mod down from an AC account. I meant people who ARGUE with you via AC accounts because they're too ashamed to do so via their normal account), and then mod you down via sock-puppet accounts when they lose.
        • by reikae (80981)

          Sounds a bit paranoid, quite honestly. I'm one of the saddest no-lifers I know and even I wouldn't waste my time on something like that. Wouldn't that also take a huge amount of accounts to pull off reliably, given that mod points are distributed randomly?

          Very often when I read a post claiming that sock-puppets have modded down their parent post, the said parent is at +3 or higher.

          • "Sounds a bit paranoid, quite honestly. I'm one of the saddest no-lifers I know and even I wouldn't waste my time on something like that. Wouldn't that also take a huge amount of accounts to pull off reliably, given that mod points are distributed randomly?"

            It only sounds paranoid until it happens to you. :)

            It's not a new phenomenon, and others have complained about the same thing. There are a few people here on Slashdot (at least a few...) who do this regularly. I can even tell who some of them are by the way they write... but of course I do not have any practical way to prove it.

      • by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @11:28PM (#45022041) Homepage Journal

        Funny, I was modbombed just last week and my karma's still excellent. Oh, and we're offtopic here... oh, wait, the subjct is manipulating online opinions. I guess we're not offtopic after all.

        But that's how we'll be modded just because I used the word "offtopic." Slashdot may be "news for nerds" but a few with limited reasoning abilities still get mod points. Put the word "insightful" somewhere in your post and expect a +5.

        Don't people suck?

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        6) claim that you're against party line even when you're not. claim that "I'll get downmodded to oblivion for this but *bullshit argument 1* and *bullshit argument 2*.

        anyhow, I'm totally unaware of people going into history and modding into oblivion. maybe your comments just suck.

        I regularly post messages with shit, fuck etc and admittedly the messages usually have some kind of point. but the point is that no matter if even 10 people decided to go to history and just mod me down just because they don't like

        • If someone posts something exceptionally stupid, I'll go into their history and downmod everything they've posted. I've only done it a couple of times though, it's pretty hard to piss me off that much with a single post.

      • by Megane (129182)
        Fourth, be sure to say "I know I'll get modded down for this, but..."
    • by Seumas (6865)

      Exactly. Most ranking or voting systems for content exist to help promote said content to the top. Therefore, one vote puts it much higher than all the other content at their default. It's like a lot of other things in life - the more exposure you have, the more opportunity you have. This is the entire reason I turn off that Slashdot feature that lets you post comments at a default of "Score: 2". That seems shitty and cheating, since there are a lot of great comments that deserve a chance to rise and a lot

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Of course, on Slashdot it *is* a little different. We seem to be such consistent assholes that we eagerly await a chance to mod-down even more than we like to mod-up.

        That's one of the things I like about slashdot.

    • But just to be sure, maybe we should have a Slashdot poll on this issue.

  • by techno-vampire (666512) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:57PM (#45020815) Homepage
    When I have mod points, I look for posts that haven't been moderated at all. I figure that once a post's been modded up, there are lots of people who will mod it up further, if appropriate (or just from the herd instinct) so I save my points for posts that haven't been noticed before.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Moderators shouldn't have complete freedom in choosing which comments to moderate. In each discussion, they should be given a random sampling of comments from which to choose, and not just those high enough to pass the browsing threshold. Then every comment would have an equal chance.

      • When I moderate, I browse at -1 so that I can see everything, including posts that may have been unfairly modded down that far. Yes, I realize that most people who moderate don't, but I do see the occasional case where something good has been unfairly moderated because the moderator didn't agree with the post.
      • by liquidsin (398151) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @09:14PM (#45021385) Homepage

        that's how the metamod [slashdot.org] works.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        To see this interesting, possibly good idea being modded into oblivion feels rather sad. It is worth reading. Everyone has a voice. There is no magical process in which getting an anonymous slashdot account will make you more intelligent, insightful, interesting, or in any way more worthy of a voice.

      • by coolmadsi (823103)

        Moderators shouldn't have complete freedom in choosing which comments to moderate. In each discussion, they should be given a random sampling of comments from which to choose, and not just those high enough to pass the browsing threshold. Then every comment would have an equal chance.

        That might be interesting. I always browse at a fairly high level even when moderating because I don't have enough time to read everything (this usually means I don't use up all my mod points because a lot of things are already scored correctly). Actually having two settings of comment thresholds ("General" and "Moderating") would be useful to make it easier to change quickly.

    • by Inda (580031)
      I've done similar in the past, but these days tend to let my mod points fade away.

      I've said before, if I start modding comments early in the life of the thread, I can heavily influence the discussion path. Up-mod an interesting post, up-mod the argumentative reply, even up-mod a troll-ist AC and watch the fallout.

      This was not possible in the early days. Bad mods were corrected and some of the group-think didn't exist.

      Posts going all the way up to 10 mod points, and the default viewing level being +4, would
  • obvious (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MondoGordo (2277808) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:58PM (#45020833)
    People are more easily swayed by opinions in subjective areas, culture, politics, business than in objective ones, news, IT, science. How obvious can a study be?
    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      Forgive me if its not the best link (at work, no youtube) but Yes Minister [youtube.com] way back when knew about this issue too...

      [Sir Humphrey demonstrates how public surveys can reach opposite conclusions]

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?

      Bernard Woolley: Yes.

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there is lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools?

      Bernard Woolley: Yes.

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives?

      Bernard Woolley: Yes.

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do they respond to a challenge?

      Bernard Woolley: Yes.

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Might you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?

      Bernard Woolley: Er, I might be.

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes or no?

      Bernard Woolley: Yes.

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Of course, after all you've said you can't say no to that. On the other hand, the surveys can reach opposite conclusions.

      [survey two]

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war?

      Bernard Woolley: Yes.

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Are you unhappy about the growth of armaments?

      Bernard Woolley: Yes.

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there's a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?

      Bernard Woolley: Yes.

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think it's wrong to force people to take arms against their will?

      Bernard Woolley: Yes.

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: Would you oppose the reintroduction of conscription?

      Bernard Woolley: Yes.

      [does a double-take]

      Sir Humphrey Appleby: There you are, Bernard. The perfectly balanced sample.

  • Brain dump summary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by steelfood (895457) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @08:00PM (#45020845)

    Is it just me, or has there recently been a rash of poorly-edited summaries that have been nothing more than a brain dump of the submitter? Like dupes, it used to happen occasionally, but now it's at least once or twice a day.

    That aside, a story about the psychology of online feedback on Slashdot. What could possibly go wrong...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Speaking of dupes: http://tech.slashdot.org/story/13/08/09/1326218/why-you-shouldnt-trust-internet-comments

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Is it just me, or has there recently been a rash of poorly-edited summaries that have been nothing more than a brain dump of the submitter?

      Uh, RECENTLY??? You just now noticed?

      Like dupes, it used to happen occasionally, but now it's at least once or twice a day.

      You just went through rehab, didn't you? It's always been like that. You just didn't notice.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      This one *is* a dupe.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    From my experience, in real life the opposite happens. People find it easier to tell their peers _not_ to go to a certain shop/restaurant/buy product rather than say "yes, definitely go buy this".

  • From the fine article:

    And what we found was that you could really measure influence very well online, and you could tell who was influential and who wasn’t influential...

    If you are looking to nudge or control popular opinion, knowing who is at the center of a sphere of influence makes the job a lot easier.

    • by PPH (736903)

      Link analysis. Marketing people have been looking for opinion leaders since before the Interwebs. And people who knew that they were such leaders capitalized on this influence as well.

  • Nobody will give this post a +1, and therefore it won't be at +5 in two hours.

    • Nobody will give this post a +1, and therefore it won't be at +5 in two hours.

      Hangon, let me give you a hand... I disagree with this man! There, you'll hit at least +4 now -- and disprove the theory. If there's one thing I've learned on slashdot, it's that everyone I disagree with gets atleast a +1 bump based simply on unmitigated fanboy hatred of my wonton slaughter of their sacred cows. It's sortof like reverse psychology as applied to nerds.

      • by TimHunter (174406)

        wonton slaughter

        That's the name of my next band.

      • by Sarten-X (1102295)

        I disagree with girlintraining, just on principle. That will get me modded up.

        This post has no useful content, so it will be modded down.

        It is, however, very informative as to what kind of useless content it has, so it will be modded up.

        None of this has anything to do with the hivemind effect the article's discussing, so I will be modded down.

        The writing style, however, illustrates an indecisive caricature which some mod may find funny, so it will be modded up.

        That's three up mods and only two down for an o

        • I disagree with girlintraining, just on principle. That will get me modded up.

          This post has no useful content, so it will be modded down.

          It is, however, very informative as to what kind of useless content it has, so it will be modded up.

          None of this has anything to do with the hivemind effect the article's discussing, so I will be modded down.

          The writing style, however, illustrates an indecisive caricature which some mod may find funny, so it will be modded up.

          That's three up mods and only two down for an otherwise uninteresting post, so it will be considered overrated, and modded down.

          I predict this post will be forgotten quickly and accomplish nothing... much like our Congress!

          Political joke... it'll be modded up.

          Truly, you have a dizzying intellect! Luckily, I've spent the last decade building up a resistance to Slashdot ramblings....

          (Princess Bride reference yet again... what will happen?)

        • by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @11:49PM (#45022139) Homepage Journal

          I predict this post will be forgotten quickly and accomplish nothing

          This guy has balls of crystal, I tell you!

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        There, you'll hit at least +4 now -- and disprove the theory. If there's one thing I've learned on slashdot, it's that everyone I disagree with gets atleast a +1 bump based simply on unmitigated fanboy hatred of my wonton slaughter of their sacred cows.

        Lady, take it from me... don't post drunk.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @08:36PM (#45021121) Homepage Journal

    just testing the theory...

  • I was describing my own approach to Metacritic to someone the other day, particularly in regards to videogame reviews.

    User reviews tend to be 70% fawning praise, and "Professional" reviews more like 80% fawning praise with little or no comment to any title's drawbacks. I've found the only way I can extract any useful information from Metacritic regarding whether I will actually like the game is:

    1: Ignore all professiona/critic reviews.
    2: Ignore all positive and neutral user reviews.
    3: Read only the nega

    • by ryllharu (1441751)
      My kingdom for a few mod points.

      This is the same strategy I use for both videogames, movie reviews, and even book/product reviews on sites like Newegg and Amazon. It gets right to the point of what might impede my enjoyment of a particular title or product. Most people won't even bother to comment on something if they were satisfied with something, but their feelings weren't extreme enough to merit fawning praise or raging disgust/disappointment.
      • by Delusion_ (56114)

        At least with tech, we've got some recourse in places like Tom's and Anandtech, where qualified reviewers who know the subject very well get into the details.

        The state of professional videogame review, however, is so bad that almost nobody writing "professionally" can risk getting shut out by a big studio by completely panning a major release. It's to the point where what at first glance looks like critical reviews is, for all intents and purposes, outsourced marketing.

        I don't have such a hard time with mo

  • Slashdot/Dice plans to use this to get everyone to like the new re-design.
  • Giving a negative response, is seen as a positive thing?

    That is to say, in some online communities, a dissenter to what may otherwise be a fairly homogeneous opinion in that community, may be poured upon by scores of people going for revenge. It's something which I've observed in the gaming community; Bioware games, of late, have been quite popularly pilloried or more often hated, and that is reflected in metacritic user scores.

  • If you go to Kongregate (online gaming anyone?) you'll see a runaway process in both the positive and negative moderation directions. Comments under -2 are hidden, and yet users actually click these to unhide and read them, and take the trouble to downrate further. I once saw a comment with -62 and it wasn't even spam or offensive. And it got down that far without the help of being placed at the top like the highest-rated comments.
  • I never would have thought that public opinion could be swayed by opinion, but after reading these comments I am convinced!

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