In the digital world, positive comments are a lot more powerful than negative ones — and that could have important implications for businesses with an online presence.
To prove this, Sinan Aral, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management; Lev Muchnik, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and Sean Taylor of New York University examined the reactions people had to online comments on a news site. The researchers found that positive comments were much more likely to be rated higher among other users. On average, positive comments received a 25 percent higher rating.
The researchers came to this conclusion after manipulating comments on a news site over the course of the five-month experiment. For the experiment, the researchers manipulated 101,281 comments by enhancing the favorability ratings given to comments.
The researchers also noted that negative comments were also affected. Comments viewed as negative were found to receive more negative comments in response, but those comments were soon outweighed by positive comments looking to correct the negativity.
"This herding behavior happens systematically on positive signals of quality and ratings," said Aral. "People are more skeptical of negative [comments]. They're more likely to 'correct' a negative vote and give it a positive vote."
Though the research was performed in the highly specific world of Internet commenters, the researchers pointed out that the findings apply to a number of other areas as well. Particularly, Aral noted that the findings could be used in a negative way by political advisers and brands looking to artificially improve their reputation and image online.
The researchers noted that further study is needed to show how communities form and react to one another.
"Our message is not that we should do away with crowd-based opinion aggregation," Aral says. "Our point is that you need solid science under the hood trying to understand exactly how these mechanisms work in a broad population, what that means for the diffusion of opinion, and how can we design the systems to be fair, to have less incentives for manipulation and fraud, and be safe in aggregating opinions."