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CrowdsouRS: A Crowdsourced Reputation System for Identifying Deceptive Online Contents

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Abstract

In recent years, accelerated web-based technologies have revolutionized content generation and broadcast mecha- nisms through the Internet. Social media, blogs, e-newspaper, auction sites facilitate the creation and exchange of user-generated contents, which rarely go through any fact-finding mechanism or rigorous editorial process. This has fuelled the creation and publication of fake news in the web. The proliferation of social networks has been exploited to accelerate the distribution and propagation of such fake news at an unprecedented level, creating a major concern for the web. There have been several efforts undertaken to rectify this problem, unfortunately, none seems to be effective to root out this concerning issue. In this paper, we present CrowdsouRS, a Crowd-sourced Reputation System, implemented as a browser extension, for the web that leverages the wisdom of the crowd to identify and tag deceptive online contents. It aggregates reputation scores for a web page from multiple users, which is then visualized in order to help other users to determine if the contents of the web page are deceptive. We have evaluated the usability and effectiveness of CrowdsouRS with a number of users and our evaluations suggest that users find the tool useful in serving its purpose.
To be published in the 20th International Conference of Computer and Information Technology, 2017, (ICCIT’17)
CrowdsouRS: A Crowdsourced Reputation System
for Identifying Deceptive Online Contents
Masiur Rahman Siddiki
Department of CSE, SUST
masiur@student.sust.edu
Md. Abu Talha
Department of CSE, SUST
talha008@student.sust.edu
Farida Chowdhury
Department of CSE, SUST
farida-cse@sust.edu
Md Sadek Ferdous
Imperial College London, London
s.ferdous@imperial.ac.uk
Abstract—In recent years, accelerated web-based technologies
have revolutionized content generation and broadcast mecha-
nisms through the Internet. Social media, blogs, e-newspaper,
auction sites facilitate the creation and exchange of user-generated
contents, which rarely go through any fact-finding mechanism
or rigorous editorial process. This has fuelled the creation and
publication of fake news in the web. The proliferation of social
networks has been exploited to accelerate the distribution and
propagation of such fake news at an unprecedented level, creating
a major concern for the web. There have been several efforts
undertaken to rectify this problem, unfortunately, none seems
to be effective to root out this concerning issue. In this paper,
we present CrowdsouRS, a Crowd-sourced Reputation System,
implemented as a browser extension, for the web that leverages
the wisdom of the crowd to identify and tag deceptive online
contents. It aggregates reputation scores for a web page from
multiple users, which is then visualized in order to help other
users to determine if the contents of the web page are deceptive.
We have evaluated the usability and effectiveness of CrowdsouRS
with a number of users and our evaluations suggest that users
find the tool useful in serving its purpose.
KeywordsTrust, Reputation, Browser extension, Fake news,
Crowd sourcing
I. INTRODUCTION
The act of employing deceptions to gain illicit advantages
is as old as the human society. A deceptive act can be
characterized from inaccurate statements to misleading claims
which hide or skip relevant information, leading the receiver
to assume false conclusions. With the advent of electronic-
mediated communication systems, it is much easier to carry
out a deceptive act with potentially greater adversarial effects.
One prominent example within this category is Fake News
published and disseminated via web.
In recent years, accelerated web-based technologies have
revolutionized content generation and broadcast mechanisms
through the Internet. Social media, blogs and e-newspaper
facilitate the creation and exchange of user-generated contents,
which rarely go through any fact-finding mechanism or rig-
orous editorial process. The proliferation of these mediums
has fueled the creation and propagation of fake news at an
unprecedented level, creating a major concern for the web.
A recent incident showcasing the detrimental effect of fake
news was when Facebook encountered criticisms that it might
have helped President Donald Trump get elected via a massive
propagation of fake news on the platform. In light of this
event, Facebook has begun tagging fake news using a fact-
checking service called http://factcheck.org/ [1], [2]. However,
the method is not effective yet [3]. In a similar vein, Google
is taking steps to prevent fake news in its search results to
tackle this problem [4], [5]. They are using fact-checking labels
which have minimal impact, sometimes results in the opposite
[6].
In Bangladesh, people are increasingly being faced with
deceptive contents in the form of fake news, rumours and
viral Facebook posts. One example is that a famous newspaper
of Bangladesh named Kaler Kantho published a fake news
with hardly any basis, where it was reported that the editor
of another newspaper ”Prothom-Alo”, Matiur Rahman was
involved in 2004 grenade assassination attempt against the
Bangladeshi Prime minister [7]. Moreover, we have witnessed
several racially and religiously aggravated attacks based on
falsified Facebook posts and sharing [8]. This has motivated
us to carry out research to tackle this ever-increasing concern.
However, unlike the approaches adopted by different online
service providers such as Facebook and Google, we have
adopted a considerably different approach. We have explored
how the wisdom of crowd can be leveraged to identify decep-
tive contents in the web. Several well-established researches
have demonstrated the effectiveness of crowd wisdom in mul-
titude of domains [9], [10]. In this paper, we present Crowd-
souRS, a Crowd-sourced Reputation System, which leverages
the wisdom of crowd for building a reputation system whose
primary objective is to help a user to identify deceptive online
contents.
Contributions:In this paper, our contributions are as follows:
We present the CrowdsouRS, a browser-extension
based Trust and Reputation system for the web.
We present its architecture and implementation details
to illustrate our design choices that make it easily
deployable.
We present a thorough user-study to test the usability
and applicability of our system.
Structure:We provide a brief background on trust and rep-
utation systems in Section II. In Section III, we present the
CrowdsouRS system along with its architecture, development
methodology and implementation details. Section IV presents
the user study. We evaluate the result and its implications in
Section V. We present a few related works in Section VI and
then finally, conclude in Section VII with a hint of future work.
II. BACKGROU ND
In this section, we present a brief overview of the related
concepts of trust, reputation and their management.
c
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The concept of trust is a widely studied topic in different
domains which has been defined in numerous ways. In this
paper, we assume the following definition taken from [11]:
Trust is the extent to which one party is willing to depend
on something or somebody in a given situation with a feeling
of relative security, even though negative consequences are
possible.
The definition outlines a directional relationship between
two parties, a Trustor and a Trustee, where a trustor trusts a
trustee for something in a situation.
The reputation concept is closely related to the concept of
trust. Here, we assume the following definition of reputation
[12] where it is portrayed as a quality of an entity: “The opin-
ion that people in general have about someone or something,
or how much respect or admiration someone or something
receives, based on past behaviour or character.
The reputation concept is a widely deployed mechanism in
different web services such as Amazon, EBay, Netflix and so
on. In such systems, a reputation is often represented using a
score and is used as a collective measure of reliability/quality
for a product or content within these web services. To calculate
a reputation score, different mechanisms are available [13].
Among these mechanisms, we restrict our focus onto the
Multinomial Bayesian reputation system [14], [15], [16], [17]
as CrowdsouRS is based on this mechanism.
The reputation score in a Bayesian reputation system is cal-
culated by combining the previous score(s) with the new score
using either binomial Beta or multinomial Dirichlet probability
density functions (PDF) [18], [13]. It is of two types: Binomial
and Multinomial. A binomial system restricts a reputation
score to have only two values: positive or negative, whereas,
a reputation score in a multinomial system can be expressed
using a range of levels. In addition, a multinomial system can
distinguish between polarized and average ratings. In short,
a multinomial reputation system offers greater flexibility and
that is why it is often preferred over a binomial system.
Let us assume that a multinomial Bayesian reputation
system allows a reputation score to be expressed using k
different values, represented as a set of kdisjoint elements:
L={L1, L2, ..., Lk}. If we consider each rating provided by
a user as a vote on the element of L, a Dirichlet PDF over
the k-component random variable p(Li)can be defined with
sample space [0,1]k, where i= 1,2, ..., k.
The individual rating of each user for a particular target
(e.g. a service or a content) in the system is then aggregated
and the multinomial reputation score of the target, denoted as
the vector
S, is calculated using the following formula [15]:
Sy:sy(Li) = Ry(Li)+Ca(Li)
C+Pk
j=1 Ry(Lj);|i= 1...k(1)
Here,
Rrepresents the aggregate ratings of the target.
yrepresents a particular target/agent.
arepresents the base rate vector over L.
Crepresents a priori weight.
The reputation score
S, in essence, represents a probability
measurement of the target indicating how it might behave in
future when a newer reputation score is provided. However,
a more preferred approach to represent a reputation score is
to use the single-valued point estimate reputation for each
target. Such a score (denoted by σ) can be estimated using
the following formula [15].
σ=Pk
i=1 v(i)S(Li)(2)
Here,
σrepresents the normalized weighted point estimate
score.
v(i) = i1
k1represents a point value for each reputa-
tion score level.
III. CROWDSOURS
In this section we present our system, called CrowdsouRS
- an acronym for Crowd-sourced Reputation System. In what
follows, we present its motivation (Section III-A), describe
its architecture & protocol flow (Section III-B) and discuss
its development and implementation methodologies (Section
III-C).
A. Motivation
CrowdsouRS is empowered by the collective wisdom
of crowd, gathered by a crowd-sourcing approach. Crowd-
sourcing is a popular online activity used for providing product
ratings in online marketplaces such as Amazon, EBay and
Netflix. Backed by the crowd-sourcing approach, CrowdsouRS
employs the following assumption. People within any commu-
nity are the best judge to identify any deceptive online content
such as fake news. A deceptive content might deceive a small
group of people within a community. However, the collective
wisdom of the whole community can identify such content as
deceptive.
The wisdom of crowd in CrowdsouRS is represented using
a reputation score. The goal of CrowdsouRS is to enable every
user with a tool, while accessing a web page, that can be
utilized to provide a user rating regarding its contents. Each
provided rating will represent a single user’s perception of the
content. Every individual rating can then be aggregated using
a mechanism to transform it into a reputation score which will
signify the collective wisdom of a community.
B. Architecture
CrowdsouRS consists of two components (Figure 1): a
browser extension and a reputation server. The browser ex-
tension represents the front-end user interface by which a user
can interact with CrowdsouRS for providing a rating. Since the
primary focus of CrowdsouRS is to identify fake online news
accessed via a browser, the user interface has been designed
as a browser extension. Each web page in CrowdsouRS is
uniquely identified by its corresponding URL. The rating a
user provides for a web page is bound to the URL of the web
page. The browser extension is also responsible for displaying
the reputation score and reviews (if any) to the user.
The reputation server consists of a reputation calculation
engine and a database. The server provides the back-end
facility in which it interacts with the extension to collect the
individual rating from different users. It then aggregates all
ratings associated with a single URL to calculate the reputation
score for that web page. The calculated reputation is then
sent back to the extension for presenting via the extension.
In addition, the reputation score for the corresponding URL is
stored in the database.
HTTP
Request Web Page URL of
Web Page
RatingScore
Web Server Reputation Server
Fig. 1: CrowdsouRS Architecture
C. Development & Implementation
CrowdsouRS extension has been developed for Chrome,
Opera or any other chromium engine based browser. It utilizes
HTML5, CSS & JavaScript framework JQuery for the user
interface. When the extension is clicked, a pop-up appears
(Figure 2). The pop-up is denoted as the home page of the ex-
tension which displays the reputation score of the current page
as returned by the reputation server, a review tab presenting
the review of other users and some other statistics regarding
the corresponding URL.
In addition, it shows a list of ratings that can be provided
by the user. The list contains five rating levels: Deceptive,
Untrustworthy, Average, Trustworthy and Very Trustworthy,
representing the elements of Las discussed in Section II.
Once a user selects and submits a particular rating, it is sent
to the reputation server through a POST HTTP request via
JQuery AJAX, where it is aggregated using the mechanism
discussed below. Furthermore, the pop-op also allows the user
to provide a textual review and feedback (Figure 3) regarding
a web page and the user can also view the previous reviews
belonging to the corresponding web page. Finally, the Statistics
tab in the extension home page illustrates statistics regarding
the particular URL (Figure 4).
The reputation server has been developed using PHP as
a web service exposing an endpoint. The extension interacts
with the server using this endpoint. It is also equipped with a
MySQL database where the reputation score, corresponding
reviews and statistics for each URL are stored. When the
Fig. 2: Extension Home Page.
Fig. 3: Extension Review Interface.
reputation server receives a request regarding the score of a
URL, it first checks in the database if there is any relevant data
regarding that URL. If found, data is returned to the extension.
If no data is found, a new entry is created for the URL with
a base reputation score. Once the server receives reviews of
a URL, it stores the review in the corresponding entry of the
URL in the database. Finally, when the server receives a rating
of a URL, it utilizes the reputation computation engine to
update its reputation.
The reputation computation engine employs a multinomial
Bayesian reputation system to calculate the reputation of a
URL. A Bayesian multinomial system mainly is based on
Dirichlet probability distribution [15] and allows a reputation
score to be expressed using different rating levels. In our
development we have employed a five scale rating where 1
corresponds to a deceptive content and 5 corresponds to a
trustworthy content. A multinomial system also requires a base
score for each rating level, especially useful when a URL has
no previous score recorded in the database. Our employed
Fig. 4: Extension Score Percentage.
rating level with the base score is presented in Table I.
Level Verbal tag Base score
L1 Deceptive 0.2
L2 Untrustworthy 0.2
L3 Average 0.2
L4 Trustworthy 0.2
L5 Very Trustworthy 0.2
TABLE I: Rating levels with base rates.
Based on the base score in Table I, the reputation engine
uses the formula 2of Section II to calculate a point estimate
reputation score normalized in the scale of 1.0 to 5.0. The
engine then updates the reputation score of the corresponding
URL in the database. Next, the score is transformed to a
meaningful textual tag (Figure 2) using a threshold range.
Both the reputation score and textual tag along with the
review and statistics for the corresponding URL are sent
back to the extension. It is to be noted that if a URL has
no associated reputation score, an average score of 3.0 is
assigned to bootstrap the system. For the first few ratings, each
score changes slightly as the system leverages the Bayesian
Multinomial System.
IV. USE R ST UDY
In this section, we present the user study that has been car-
ried out to test the usability and applicability of CrowdsouRS
along with a discussion of subjects, the tasks they have been
required to carry out, the questionnaires they have answered
and the corresponding result.
For the study, we have prepared a dataset of more than
600 URLs including some most popular, less popular and
hoax web sites involving Facebook, Google, ESPNcricinfo,
Prothom-Alo, Bdnews24, Priyo.com, and abcnews.com.co.
40 subjects have been recruited for the user study via word
of mouth and personal references. The majority (95%) of them
are students aged between 18-40 and are active Internet users.
Among them, around 80% are computer science major.
Before starting, we have explained CrowdsouRS to the
participants and the problem we are trying to tackle using this
tool.
At first, the participants have been asked to fill up a
form containing several demographic questions1such as age,
occupations, etc. and other questions involving their internet
consciousness and safety awareness. Then, they have been
asked to install the extension in their browsers and randomly
visit any page from the dataset. The extension would show the
reputation score of the corresponding web page as discussed
before. If any user wishes, she can also rate a web page from
their own evaluation. Once they visit a sufficient number of
pages, they are asked to take part in a survey by filling out a
post questionnaire 2.
The purpose of the post questionnaire is mainly to collect
qualitative user experience on the usability of our system, and
to find out their thoughts on how this can be helpful, what
features to add in terms of reputation of a website.
From the two questionnaires we have found that 51%
participants have been fooled by misleading contents in their
experience whereas around 29% have stated that they might
be a victim of deceptive or misleading contents. We have
also found that 29.3% and 19.5% of participants have seen
deceptive online contents often and very often, respectively.
Figure 5illustrates the view of participants regarding
CrowdsouRS. As evident from the figures, most of the par-
ticipants (around 70%) believe that CrowdsouRS can be an
effective tool to fight against deceptive misleading online
contents.
0
5
10
15
20
25
30
35
40
45
50
Strongly Disagree Disagree Neutral Agre e Strongly A gree
PERCENTAGE
DECISION
Fig. 5: Influence of CrowdsouRS
V. DISCUSSIONS
The result of average reputation scores for different web-
sites as generated by CrowdsouRS utilizing the ratings pro-
vided by the participants is presented in Figure 6. According
to this figure, more than 70% people assume that Facebook
and Google are very trustworthy while only less than 2%
people mark these web sites untrustworthy. However, when
we calculate the reputation score of abcnews.com.co, 75%
people rightfully indicate that this website contains deceptive
misleading contents. On the other hand, the reputation scores
1Pre Study Questionnaire: http://bit.ly/PreStudyQs
2Post Study Questionnaire: http://bit.ly/PostStudyQs
0
50
100
150
200
250
300
Facebook Google Prothom-Alo ESPNcricinfo.com bdnews24 priyo.com abcnews.go.com
Ratings
URL's
Very Trustworthy Trustworthy Average Untrustworthy Very Unrustworthy
Fig. 6: URL Ratings from User According to Input.
indicate that most of the people have tagged Prothom-Alo,
BdNews24, ESPNcricinfo as neutral websites.
This shows that CrowdsouRS has been able to identify
deceptive contents which validates our assumption that the
wisdom of crowd can be leveraged for identifying decep-
tive contents. We have also evaluated the experience and
perception of users regarding CrowdsouRS. The evaluation
result is presented Figure 7. It is evident from the result
that the user experience has been mostly positive. Among
all users, around 41.5% participants have been satisfied and
22% of the participants have been highly satisfied while 29.3%
participants remain neutral.
The success of any crowd-sourced system depends on
its wide-scale adoption with a large amount of user input.
In our study, we have had a limited number of users with
the majority of our participants have been from the campus-
oriented neighborhood (95% were students, and others were
recent ex-students). The age and technically knowledgeable
inclination of our members may give a skewed vision of the
general convenience of our instrument. A wide-scale study
involving users from all spheres of life would be ideal to
present a more accurate representation of the wisdom of crowd.
We plan to address this issue by carrying out a larger user study
in the future with a more comprehensive dataset.
VI. RE LATE D WORK
There are a good number of researches within the domain
of trust and reputation systems and their management. In this
section, we present a few influential related works.
Noorian and Ulieru [19] introduced a multidimensional
framework to compare various types of trust and reputation
systems which could be used to justify the applicability and
the utility of those systems.
In [13], [15] Jøsang et al. presented a survey of trust and
reputation systems for web services. Their focus was to give
an overview of existing systems as well to briefly discuss how
reputation scores in different systems were computed using
different mechanisms such as simple summation or average,
Bayesian calculation, belief model, fuzzy model, etc.
0
2
4
6
8
10
12
14
16
18
Highly Un satisfied Unsatisf ied Neutral Satisfie d Highly Sa tisfied
NUMBER OF VOTES
DECISION
Fig. 7: Satisfaction with the Reliability of System.
In a similar vein, the background, the current state and
the future of Internet-mediated trust and reputation systems
had been presented in [20]. The authors attempted to show
that the multinomial Bayesian system with different levels
of reputation score provides great flexibility and usability.
Google’s PageRank and the slashdot model were also shortly
summarized.
Whitby and Jøsang proposed a system to filter out unfair
ratings from the online marketplace[21]. In their article, they
showed how a Bayesian reputation system could be used to
filter product ratings.
A game theoretical model for reputation management in
online auction sites had been presented in [16] where it was
discussed how a Bayesian model averaging could be used in
a reputation system to integrate different information sources.
In [22], Kariyawasam and Weresinghe attempted to present
a reputation model which was devised to measure the reputa-
tions of reviews in a web-based review system. Their model is
based on the credibility of sources expressed as expertise and
trustworthiness.
Many existing reputations systems fail to effectively cal-
culate a reputation score when some buyers intentionally give
unfair ratings to a target. To address this problem, Dellarocas
and Chrysanthos proposed a solution to reduce the negative
effects of such fraudulent behaviour [23].
Web of Trust (WoT) [24] is an online service provider
that calculates the reputation score of different websites. In
a similar fashion like CrowdsouRS, it provides a browser
extension that effectively measures if a website is secure
and privacy friendly. Even though their mechanism is closely
related to our system, there are two major differences. Firstly,
their system does not identify any deceptive contents as their
goal is different. Secondly, the reputation score in WoT is
domain specific, meaning all pages under a domain would have
a similar score, where our system is URL specific, generating
different scores for each web page.
SmartNotes is also another crowdsourced system by Shar-
ifi et al.[25] which aims to detect security threats such as
Internet scams and deceitful sales of low standard products.
Their system mainly analyzes user feedback applying machine
learning techniques and natural language processing. However,
they do not utilize any reputation system and they do not aim
to identify any type of fake news.
VII. CONCLUSION
The web has been one of the truly transformative technolo-
gies having a huge impact in all parts of our life every single
day. Unfortunately, the open nature of web has also fueled
the proliferation of deceptive misleading contents such as fake
news. It has increasingly become a major concern which needs
to be tackled with urgency.
In this paper, we have presented CrowdsouRS a crowd-
sourced reputation system that leverages the wisdom of the
crowd to identify deceptive online contents. It allows a user
to rate any web page via a browser extension. The individual
rating of each user is aggregated by a back-end reputation
server, based on multinomial Bayesian system, to calculate a
reputation score for a web page. The reputation score is then
displayed via the extension as a visual cue to aid other users
identify any deceptive content. A user study carried out with
a number of users highlights the tool to be effective as well
as usable.
In future, we plan to move further with a major upgrade of
the extension with an addition of machine learning approach
with the a large dataset to make it more accurate and provide
extensions for other popular browsers. We hope our approach
will pave down a novel way for tackling deceptive online
contents.
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... This in turn allows organizations to predict the performance of an extant or upcoming product in its intended market effectively because the opinions of consumers are reflected more strongly in such products provided crowdsourcing is used to design or modify the products in question. Some progress in vetting the authenticity and correctness of media content using crowdsourced opinions has already been made by researchers, through implementation of crowd-sourced online reputation systems [11]. The effect of social interactions in design and maintenance of content-centric networks has also been examined in recent years [12]. ...
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