“Trust Me, I Have a Ph.D.”: A Propensity Score Analysis on the Halo Effect of Disclosing One's Offline Social Status in Online Communities
Online communities adopt various reputation schemes to measure content quality. This study analyzes the effect of a new reputation scheme that exposes one's offline social status, such as an education degree, within an online community. We study two Reddit communities that adopted this scheme, whereby posts include tags identifying education status referred to as flairs, and we examine how the “transferred” social status affects the interactions among the users. We computed propensity scores to test whether flairs give ad-hoc authority to the adopters while minimizing the effects of confounding variables such as topics of content. The results show that exposing academic degrees is likely to lead to higher audience votes as well as larger discussion size, compared to the users without the disclosed identities, in a community that covers peer-reviewed scientific articles. In another community with a focus on casual science topics, exposing mere academic degrees did not obtain such benefits. Still, the users with the highest degree (e.g., Ph.D. or M.D.) were likely to receive more feedback from the audience. These findings suggest that reputation schemes that link the offline and online worlds could induce halo effects on feedback behaviors differently depending upon the community culture. We discuss the implications of this research for the design of future reputation mechanisms.