If an internet stranger tells you that a comment is worth reading, how much do you trust them? According to a new study published in Science, the answer is probably more than you think.
The study’s authors were interested in how other people influence each other over social media, particularly sites that allow users to influence the popularity of comments by upvoting or downvoting them, like on Reddit or the National Post’s comment section.
The researchers, using a news aggregator site similar to Reddit, randomly selected comments and randomly upvoted or downvoted, and then watched subsequent voting. As it turns out, positive manipulation in the form of a single upvote resulted in a twenty-five per cent increase in total ratings.
The effect of negative manipulation was less striking. People still “herd” on negatively voted items, but they’re more likely to “correctively” upvote, maintaining an equilibrium.
Finally, the topic of the comments matters. Posts about business, society, culture, and politics were susceptible to herding techniques, whereas posts about economics, IT, and general news were not.
So, add this to your grain of salt that you take when you read internet comments—if, indeed, you still do that.