This past Thursday, AlterNet ran a story about a group of approximatively 100 conservatives, known as Digg Patriots, that was gaming the Digg system by burying stories it didn’t agree with and voting up (or Digging) the stories it did. What followed was a maelstrom of incredulous blog posts through out the tech blogosphere over what a horrific event this was, and could Digg ever recover from such a group being uncovered and shamelessly manipulating the stalwart nature of the bastion of social media bookmarking.
Um … I hate to be the one to break this to you, but this has been going on pretty much since Digg launched. (I feel like I just told you Santa isn’t real …)
For those not well versed in the workings of Digg, once a story is submitted to the site, it will sit in the “Upcoming” section for 24 hours in a hopes of getting enough Diggs to make it to the front page of the site, or becoming “Popular” as it’s known. During this run up to popularity, the submission can also receive negative votes which is known as “bury” votes. If a submission receives enough negative votes it will be knocked out of the Upcoming page and have no hope of going popular.
While organized groups voting on Digg has always been against the site’s Terms of Service, it hasn’t stopped them from springing up from time to time. True, most of them weren’t quite as well organized as the Digg Patriots, who used a Yahoo Groups page (now deleted) and the coRank service to organize the burying of over 40,000 Digg submissions over the past 14 months. Their efficiency was what set them apart, sending out multiple calls-to-action a day, and getting most stories buried within one to three hours.
What was surprising was, as AlterNet pointed out, was they went after such a wide array of subjects:
This censorship is not restricted to political articles either. Articles about education, homophobia, racism, science, the environment, economics, wealth disparity, world events, the media, green energy, and anything even slightly critical of the GOP/Tea Party/FoxNews/corporations are targets. In fact, any articles submitted by the users they hate the most are on their kill lists, including such benign things as SETI Opens All Data To The Public, Celtics Take Lead in N.B.A. Finals, Man Donates Phone He Used to Record Rape of 3-Year-Old Girl, 40,000 BP Australian Rock Art May Depict Giant Extinct Bird, Sarah Ferguson: I Was Drinking At The Time Of Video Sting, Top 10 Real Life Mutants, What is being Taught in a Bible Belt Science Classroom, and Totally Cute Puppy Pictures (buried in less than 30 minutes).
Thank goodness they buried “Totally Cute Puppy Pictures” … no one wants to see that.
As I said above, Digg Brigades are nothing new, but yet that is what everyone is acting like. Perhaps they are actually taken aback by how efficient this group was, but there was really nothing new here. How do I know? I was asked to be part of a Digg Brigade three years ago. I was seen as a potentially valuable member due to the big name blog I was working at, and their stated purpose was merely to help one another vote up their stories to become popular. They were not out to bury any stories, but they also sent out e-mail notifications daily of stories to vote on. (For the record, I declined joining) So imagine my surprise when everyone is writing up theories and thoughts on this particular story like this was some new phenomenon.
By the way … the Easter Bunny isn’t real either.
This is part of the problem with Digg that I stated several months ago: it can, and is gamed on a regular basis. Any time you have a voting situation such as this, it can be manipulated, and that is why I think even with the changes to the “new” Digg, social promotion situations such as reTweeting on Twitter still make more sense because there is no “voting” involved, and no way to game it. The new version of Digg will probably alleviate some problems, but it won’t be long before people figure out how to game it also.
For now, calm down about the Digg Patriots, they weren’t the first group to do this, and I highly doubt they will be the last.