Digg. A sprawling campaign of political conservatives working together on secret mailing lists to orchestrate systematic burying of news stories and other users believed to be politically liberal has been uncovered by an investigation published on today on Alternet.There's something rotten going on at massive social news site
Report author Ole Ole Olson focused on a group called Digg Patriots, which he alleges used a now-deleted Yahoo Groups email list to distribute bury orders for more than 40,000 stories over the past 15 months. In addition to explicitly liberal political articles, "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," Olson writes.
The Big Picture
The group appears to be generally paranoid that they are themselves subject to a liberal editorial agenda and need to make this kind of concerted effort in order to fight back. Digg's corporate leadership seems to have made little effort to challenge this group in particular, but believes that a nearly launched new version of the site will render such conspiracies impotent.
Michele Husak, Director of Communications, told us she thought the Alternet article was "certainly an interesting look into the lengths people will go to create the Digg experience they think is best."
"Meanwhile," she continued, "we're getting ready to launch our new platform which removes the 'bury' feature and focuses much more on a relevant and personalized news experience by allowing users to follow profiles of people and content curators that they know and trust."
While tens of millions of people visit Digg each month to read crowd-sourced content, the path to the front page of the site is crowded with opportunists acting in self interest or bad faith.
The Extent of the Conniving
Olson's investigation unearthed extensive measures taken including the creation of hundreds of fake Digg accounts by each of many different users. At least 70 Digg users participating were explicitly identified.
In addition to stories being buried because of their subject matter, the group targeted stories and comments from particular users they believed were politically left-leaning. One user targeted for indiscriminate burying was Andrew Sorcini, Mr.Babyman. Mr. Babyman is far and away the most successful user Digg has ever seen, in terms of stories submitted that hit the front page of the site.
"While I'm not surprised to learn I'm on a list of users to be buried," Sorcini said when we asked him about the investigation, "I'm amazed that the number of participants is so vast and organized."
In theory, the very soon-to-launch new version of Digg should greatly diminish the ability for conspiracies like this to succeed. Many participants in the Digg Patriot group seemed to believe there never has been an algorithm determining which stories hit the front page.
One message on the Digg Patriots mailing list was indicative of that belief:
There's no 'algorithm' at digg. The 'algorithm' most likely consists of a bunch of liberal, bi-sexual, emo-types, who drink mimosas all day, and engage in a circle-jerk by night. When they're not doing that, they pull a few levers to get a banana payoff from a machine, which they call the digg 'algorithm'.
Such ogre-like behavior may inevitably overwhelm any kind of social news site. Or there may be an arms race between site owners and groups acting in bad faith.