London: Trust in information displayed on the Internet is being damaged by a number of people being paid by companies to post their comments online, researchers have warned.
According to researchers from Canada and China, fake posters can “poison” debate and make people unsure about who they can trust.
Some firms are said to have created tens of thousands of fake accounts to flood chat forums and skew debate.
According to researchers, paying people to post comments is an “interesting strategy in business marketing” but it is not a benign activity.
“Paid posters may create a significant negative effect on the online communities, since the information from paid posters is usually not trustworthy,” the BBC quoted the researchers as saying.
In some cases, rival companies have used competing armies of workers to wage comment wars that confused members of the public looking for unbiased information.
They have also said that fake comments can overwhelm some users, causing them to find it hard to trust any information found online.
To prove their point, the researchers gave an example of a spike in activity on a World of Warcraft chat forum on the Chinese website Baidu.
A thread titled “Junpeng Jia, your mother asked you to go back home for dinner!” received over 300,000 replies over a two day period.
A PR company later claimed that it had employed 800 individuals to run 20,000 separate accounts on the site to help maintain interest in the videogame while it was down for maintenance.
The practice of flooding forums with fake comments, which was widespread in China, is now becoming common in other nations as well.