Chapter 6. Gaming the System

More than many aspects of technology, data analytics is subject to a very powerful force: human nature. By its very nature, data reveals winners and losers, and everyone wants to win, of course. Making your product, your political candidate, or your brand seem more popular than it is can be very profitable. Social media presents myriad opportunities to create this fake popularity. One example is to friend new and unknown people and “spam” them with offers. This reality can very easily lead people to try and shade results in their favor, or even openly cheat the system.

More generally, any successful metric can be intentionally or unintentionally skewed by rewarding wrong behavior. After we have learned how marketing and PR use social media and social media data, we should spend some time on the shadow world of robots. This chapter describes the dark side: the abuse of the tools and metrics described earlier in this book. We have touched on many of the concepts in previous chapters. However, they are now used to intentionally skew metrics. Here, we look frankly at many of the ways that people can “game the system” with social media and data analytics, because you must often manage for human nature as well as numbers to succeed in this area.

Spam and Robots

The law of unintended consequences governs every system. For example, when email suddenly made it possible to communicate with large numbers of strangers for free, it immediately led to the problem of ...

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