Identity and Opinion: A Randomized Experiment

34 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2014

See all articles by Sean J. Taylor

Sean J. Taylor


Lev Muchnik


Sinan Aral

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management

Date Written: December 14, 2014


Content and identity are inextricably linked in social media. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Reddit, Netflix and Amazon all provide identity cues that affect users’ link formation decisions and choices about who to follow for the best content, the automated friend suggestion algorithms developed by the platforms themselves, as well as new “social advertising” programs that use identity cues to improve ad effectiveness. The universality of identity cues online raises an interesting question: To what extent are opinions about products and content influenced by features of the content itself or the identity of the user associated with the content? We conducted a large scale field experiment with a novel anonymization manipulation that randomly assigned social content produced on a social news aggregation website to “named” and “anonymous” conditions to identify the causal effect of identity cues on opinion. Our results show that identity effects exist and vary with a content producer’s reputation, activity level and reciprocity with the viewer. These methods and results can help platform providers correct for known biases to maintain consumer confidence in the reviews, ratings and crowdsourced opinions they provide; as well as enabling marketers to optimally target social advertising.

Keywords: Social Networks, Field Experiments, Heterogeneity, Social Media

Suggested Citation

Taylor, Sean J. and Muchnik, Lev and Aral, Sinan, Identity and Opinion: A Randomized Experiment (December 14, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Sean J. Taylor


No Address Available
United States

Lev Muchnik

Independent ( email )

No Address Available

Sinan Aral (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

100 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02142
United States

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