Crowdsourcing can be a great way to generate income, ideas and support for fledgling commercial projects. But there are also potential dangers. A new scientific investigation has found that while crowdsourcing is an efficient way to achieve outcomes by tapping into the skills of large groups, it also attracts malicious behaviour among participants. In short; the benefits of crowdsourcing may not outweigh the pitfalls caused by its openness of entry. (This is especially true if your project has anything to do with the gaming community.)
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To investigate the trade-off between higher efficiency of crowdsourcing and vulnerability to attacks, researchers from the University of Southampton analysed instances of team conflict in a variety of recent crowdsourcing competitions, including the DARPA Network Challenge and the US Department of State sponsored Tag Challenge.
They found that elaborate sabotage derailed or severely hindered collective efforts on a regular basis. In fact, malicious behaviour was the norm, not the anomaly — “a result contrary to the conventional wisdom in the area.”
Examples of malicious behaviour in crowdsourcing competitions included false or fabricated submissions designed to hamper a rival team’s progress and smear campaigns orchestrated on Twitter to reduce an individual or group’s credibility.
Instances of sabotage were higher in situations where damage from attacking was high. Crowdsourcing projects that attempted to make their model more difficult to attack did not deter the attackers and actually resulted in a more costly and less efficient equilibrium outcome.
“Our results emphasize that despite crowdsourcing being a more efficient way of accomplishing many tasks, it is also a less secure approach,” the paper concludes. “In scenarios of ‘competitive’ crowdsourcing, where there is an inherent desire to hurt the opponent, attacks on crowdsourcing strategies are essentially unavoidable.”
Anyone who’s been following this week’s “Quinnspiracy” debacle will be well aware of crowdsourcing’s potential for malicious behaviour. It started when a group of independent video game developers launched a crowdsourcing campaign on the fundraising site Indiegogo to help promote women in the video games industry.
This was achieved with the assistance of controversial online forum 4chan /v/, which prompted negative feedback on Twitter and Tumblr due to 4chan’s misogynistic reputation and bad blood with rival devs including Zoe Quinn. Within a few days, the campaign page on Indiegogo was hacked and deleted, along with over $25,000 in raised funds. At the time of writing, the page is still offline and the future of the project is unclear.
Crowdsourcing contest dilemma [Journal of the Royal Society Interface]