Study finds ‘likes’ have persuasive power

Up-votes seem to have more influence on other readers than down-votes, according to a new article in the journal Science.


The Internet has a reputation for enabling anonymous trolls to set off waves of hatred with a few keystrokes.

A new study in the journal Science offers some hope that the Web isn’t a place fueled by negativity, though. In fact, it’s positive feedback that does the most to persuade other users.

According to the report, “liking” an article will almost certainly encourage friends to “like” it as well, even if it’s not all that good. Unfairly criticizing an article won’t have the same effect.

Researchers from The New York Times research and development laboratory, New York University, and Hebrew University in Jerusalem worked with a Reddit-like, unnamed website that enables users to vote articles and comments up or down. Some comments were given random up or down votes to see what the impact would be.

The New York Times reports the results:

The first person reading the comment was 32 percent more likely to give it an up vote if it had been already given a fake positive score. There was no change in the likelihood of subsequent negative votes. Over time, the comments with the artificial initial up vote ended with scores 25 percent higher than those in the control group.

Comments given an initial fake down-vote weren’t any more likely to get buried than comments in the control group.

Duncan J. Watts, a scientist at Microsoft Research, says the research fits into the theory of “cumulative advantage,” the idea that something that gets a bit of a popularity head start will be exponentially more popular.

Just what will social media managers take away from this? We might expect a wave of brands voting up their own posts in the near future. Who knows? It might just work. Maybe it has been working for a while now.

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