When glass windows block the light

Interesting piece on GiftHub about the manipulation of online rating systems for political ends:

For his film (Astro)Turf Wars, Taki Oldham secretly recorded a training session organised by a rightwing libertarian group called American Majority. The trainer, Austin James, was instructing Tea Party members on how to “manipulate the medium”(11). This is what he told them:

“Here’s what I do. I get on Amazon; I type in “Liberal Books”. I go through and I say “one star, one star, one star”. The flipside is you go to a conservative/ libertarian whatever, go to their products and give them five stars. … This is where your kids get information: Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster. These are places where you can rate movies. So when you type in “Movies on Healthcare”, I don’t want Michael Moore’s to come up, so I always give it bad ratings. I spend about 30 minutes a day, just click, click, click, click. … If there’s a place to comment, a place to rate, a place to share information, you have to do it. That’s how you control the online dialogue and give our ideas a fighting chance.”

I’ve wondered in the past what the implications of social-media vehicles for expressing preferences – liking, sharing, rating – would be if applied to grant decision processes.  This story reminds us how relatively easily such systems can be “gamed.”

This is a very strange version of the high-school popularity contests that can erupt online around these types of decision-making mechanisms. In this example, the idea is that dogged effort can skew the game of popularity – “give our ideas a fighting chance.” Interesting the worldview of being aggrieved, put-upon.

Given the relatively “elite” perception of foundations, this kind of manipulation seems all too easy to have happen….


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