A study by University of Notre Dame professor Tim Weninger published in ACM's Transactions on Intelligent Systems and Technology demonstrates how a single up/down vote on Reddit dictates the content users see on the site.
"[Voters] become the content editors...and they're the ones who are responsible for what's trending on the site," Weninger says. "Anyone can vote on social media, so it's relatively easy for a handful of bad actors to manipulate the news and opinions and commentary that you see in social media."
Weninger and Notre Dame's Maria Glenski tracked new Reddit posts for five months, randomly assigning an up-vote, down-vote, or no vote to each post. Up-vote posts received a significantly higher final score than posts with no vote, and down-vote posts got a significantly lower score.
"Moreover, the posts that we up-voted were 24 percent more likely to reach the front page than those that we did not up-vote," Weninger says.
He notes the content on Reddit is based on the aggregate opinion of those who vote, which comprises a relatively small portion of users. "It is critical that we understand the dynamics of how social rating systems curate the media that we all see and hear in our daily lives," Weninger says.
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