Likes, shares and retweets are constantly invoked in news stories to establish an idea as credible, or at least popular. They shouldn’t be.

Nicholas Diakopoulos, writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, outlines just how widespread manipulation of these metrics really is:

Bots manipulate credibility by influencing social signals like the number of aggregated likes or shares a post or user receives. People see a large number of retweets on a post and read it as a genuine signal of authentic traction in the marketplace of ideas. Do not fall for this. Trends are basically over—they’re too easy to manipulate. This goes for any information online that feeds off of public signals, including things like search autocomplete or content recommendation lists. Journalists can no longer rely on information sources reflecting some form of online “popularity.”

The piece is written for journalists but it applies to users as well. Never assume things like follower counts, product ratings, retweets, likes, or shares mean much of anything, because these numbers are easily gamed. Focus on ideas and credibility, not arbitrary statistics, when determining whether something is legit.

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Justin Pot has been writing about technology for over a decade, with work appearing in Digital Trends, The Next Web, Lifehacker, MakeUseOf, and the Zapier Blog. He also runs the Hillsboro Signal, a volunteer-driven local news outlet he founded.
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