When Congress recently grilled executives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter about their role in spreading "fake news," maybe they should have invited someone from Amazon, too.
The Worcester Business Journal reports on a researcher at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute:
Funded by a $516,000 National Science Foundation award, assistant professor Kyumin Lee has developed algorithms that can detect fake "likes" and followers across different social platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter.
Specifically, Lee's work targets crowdturfing, which is described as an online black market for false information including fake reviews, damaging tweets and fake news.
Lee, who joined WPI in July, first targeted sites like Amazon's Mechanical Turk, an online recruiting tool that has been used for crowdturfing campaigns.
Amazon's Mechanical Turk is just one of several sites where people seeking to optimize the performance of a piece of content on Facebook, Google, or Twitter can pay account holders to "like," "share," "retweet," or "click" on articles in ways that increases their reach. You can go on to the Mechanical Turk site and search for qualifications containing the word "Facebook" to get an idea of how this might work. Microworkers and Fiverr are other similar sites where you can pay for "social media marketing" services that basically amount, in some cases, to paying individuals to comment on Facebook posts, share them, or like them in such a way that it makes the social media network think that they are real news, or at least more interesting news than they would be without the paid comments, likes, and clicks.
It's certainly possible that some legitimate news organizations are using similar tactics to boost their reach. I've caught the New York Times a couple of times recently (here, here) paying Facebook for ads to promote news articles. Paying Facebook users to like or share the content and therefore raise its profile in Facebook's algorithm is a different thing, but maybe not so different, or not so different from sending an internal message to 50 employees suggesting that they share a story using their personal accounts. Facebook and Google have gotten so important in the flow of online content that nearly everyone in the news business, real or fake, and many other businesses for that matter, is trying nearly everything they can to maximize their advantages there.