How Social Network Manipulation Tactics Are Impacting Amazon and Influencing Consumers
The issue of narrative manipulation online is a major concern for social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In her recent talk, Renee Diresta explained how such behavior has become equally alarming on Amazon. In Amazon’s increasingly crowded marketplace, reviews have become more important for sellers. As such, companies now look for ways to “game the reviews.”
Narrative manipulation can take many forms, including manufactured consensus, brigading, harassment, sock puppet accounts, and news voids. In her research, Diresta has found the creation of positive consensus about products on Amazon is sophisticatedly organized. For example, potential reviewers belong to Facebook groups (often with names like “deals” to obscure their true purpose) in which they can be contacted by sellers. Sellers offer them a free product, or sometimes even pay, in exchange for positive product reviews. In order to not draw attention to these incentivized reviews—which have already been banned—sellers instruct reviewers to do things like add similar products to their wish lists, and pay upfront, but accept reimbursement via PayPal at a later date. They also seek out reviewers with long-term Amazon accounts, as this adds credibility to their reviews.
Renee DiResta is the Director of Research at New Knowledge, and Head of Policy at nonprofit Data for Democracy. Renee investigates the spread of disinformation and manipulated narratives across social networks, and assists policymakers in understanding and responding to the problem.