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How trolls can derail your crowdsourcing

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How trolls can derail your crowdsourcing

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I’m a huge fan of the ability for crowdsourcing to enable organizations to tap into the wealth of talent that exists outside of their workforce.  There have been a huge number of successful projects in an extremely wide range of fields, from commercial to charitable.  That isn’t to say that all succeed however, and a new study outlines the malicious ways that some people employ to derail a crowdsourcing competition.

The study, which was published recently in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, revealed that the very nature of crowdsourcing competitions, and in particular the first past the post variety, made them vulnerable to malicious attack.

The research employed game theory to study the possible trade-offs for organizations using a crowdsourcing competition to inject fresh talent and insight into a problem, whilst also judging the potential for malicious and un-ethical behaviour.  The researchers cite the DARPA Network Challenge as an example of a project that used a lot of time and energy managing the sheer number of fake submissions to the competition.

The study suggests that such activity has to be factored into the costs of running a crowdsourcing initiative, as it is sadly all too commonplace.

“Our work enhances the understanding of the strategic forces coming into play in crowdsourcing contests,” the researchers say.

The challenge of tackling such behaviour is not an easy one, as raising the costs of malicious entries did not stamp out bad behaviour entirely, and indeed led to more attacks by apparently weaker participants in a competition.

The researchers are at pains to point out however that the benefits of crowdsourcing far outweigh any potential negative elements.

“There is a skepticism about crowdsourcing – people think when you involve crowds you run the risks of attacks and vandalism…but there are many instances, particularly in non-profit contexts; for example the National library’s newspaper digitization project which had been running for more than five years and there hasn’t been any cases of vandalism.” they say.

They go on to highlight how such malicious behaviour is generally only evident in first past the post crowdsourcing projects that employ such a competitive element.  When less adversarial methods are employed, such as in many citizen science projects, then the rate of malicious behaviour drops significantly.

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