New Working Paper: Identity and Opinion07 Jan 2014
Identity and content are inextricably linked in social media. Content items are almost always displayed alongside the identity of the user who shares them. This social context enables social advertising but thwarts marketers’ efforts to separate causal engagement effects of content from the identity of the user who shares it. To identify the role of identity in driving engagement, we conducted a large-scale randomized experiment on a social news website. For any comment on the site, 5% of random viewers could not see the commenter’s identity, allowing us to measure how users interact with anonymous content. We conducted the experiment over two years, facilitating within-commenter measurements that characterize heterogeneity in identity effects. Our results establish three conclusions. First, identity cues affect rating behavior and discourse, and these effects depend on the specific identity of the content producer. Identity cues improve some users’ content ratings and responses, while reducing ratings and replies for others. Second, both selective turnout and opinion change drive the results, meaning identity cues actually change people’s opinions. Third, we find an association between users’ past scores and identity effects, implying that users bias ratings toward past identity-rating associations. This work improves our understanding of the persuasive impact of identity and helps marketers create more effective social advertising.
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