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Social Influence Bias: A Randomized Experiment

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Science  09 Aug 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6146, pp. 647-651
DOI: 10.1126/science.1240466

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Follow the Leader?

The Internet has increased the likelihood that our decisions will be influenced by those being made around us. On the one hand, group decision-making can lead to better decisions, but it can also lead to “herding effects” that have resulted in financial disasters. Muchnik et al. (p. 647) examined the effect of collective information via a randomized experiment, which involved collaboration with a social news aggregation Web site on which readers could vote and comment on posted comments. Data were collected and analyzed after the Web site administrators arbitrarily voted positively or negatively (or not at all) as the first comment on more than 100,000 posts. False positive entries led to inflated subsequent scores, whereas false negative initial votes had small long-term effects. Both the topic being commented upon and the relationship between the poster and commenter were important. Future efforts will be needed to sort out how to correct for such effects in polls or other collective intelligence systems in order to counter social biases.