updated 08:35 pm EST, Wed November 23, 2011
Paid posters flood websites with misinformation
University of Victoria computer scientist Cheng Chen in a new report has gone undercover and then developed a computer program to expose the Chinese practice of paying people to post disinformation on the Internet about either a product or a competitor. The practice usually involves a company paying posters, often referred to as the 'Internet Water Army", to literally flood the Internet with deceptive comments, gossip, or innuendo. The objective is to mislead consumers into making a misguided purchase decision.
Chen signed on as one of these paid posters to Chinese websites. By going undercover, he learned that the practice is both widespread and well managed. Often, there are teams of quality control specialists employed to make sure the postings meet certain minimum standards. Chen also realized that these posters often took shortcuts and cut and pasted the posts multiple times.
After learning the dynamics of the practice, Chen and his colleagues then wrote a program to identify and quantify when this paid posting was taking place. They looked at the websites of two Chinese companies engaged in a public squabble. In all, they evaluated over 21,000 comments from 700 purported users.
Amongst their findings, they discovered that the paid posters tended to make more new comments than post responses. They also worked very quickly, as over 50 percent of the paid posters on average made a new comment every 2.5 minutes. None stayed in a conversation for a long period of time, and they quickly stopped using an ID before switching to a new example.
Unfortunately, it is likely that the practicality of Chen's methodology for identifying paid posters is of limited benefit. The organizations orchestrating the flooding may have figured out ways to circumvent being detected by Chen's software. [via MIT Technology Review]