Identity effects in social media

Sean J. Taylor, Lev Muchnik, Madhav Kumar, Sinan Aral*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Identity cues appear ubiquitously alongside content in social media today. Some also suggest universal identification, with names and other cues, as a useful deterrent to harmful behaviours online. Unfortunately, we know little about the effects of identity cues on opinions and online behaviours. Here we used a large-scale longitudinal field experiment to estimate the extent to which identity cues affect how people form opinions about and interact with content online. We randomly assigned content produced on a social news aggregation website to ‘identified’ and ‘anonymous’ conditions to estimate the causal effect of identity cues on how viewers vote and reply to content. The effects of identity cues were significant and heterogeneous, accounting for between 28% and 61% of the variation in voting associated with commenters’ production, reputation and reciprocity. Our results also showed that identity cues cause people to vote on content faster (consistent with heuristic processing) and to vote according to content producers’ reputations, production history and reciprocal votes with content viewers. These results provide evidence that rich-get-richer dynamics and inequality in social content evaluation are mediated by identity cues. They also provide insights into the evolution of status in online communities. From a practical perspective, we show via simulation that social platforms may improve content quality by including votes on anonymized content as a ranking signal.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)27-37
Number of pages11
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.


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