Digg this: Conservative efforts to manipulate the public discussion extend to social media

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"Digg this: Conservative efforts to manipulate the public discussion extend to social media"

A group of influential conservative members of the behemoth social media site Digg.com have just been caught red-handed in a widespread campaign of censorship, having multiple accounts, upvote padding, and deliberately trying to ban progressives. An undercover investigation has exposed this effort, which has been in action for more than one year.

That’s from an expos© last month by Alternet, “Massive Censorship Of Digg Uncovered.”  I didn’t blog on it at the time because I was just going on vacation. It apparently did drive Digg to change one of its key features and is worth excerpting to show how far the right wing will goes to distort even the online discussion:

“The more liberal stories that were buried the better chance conservative stories have to get to the front page. I’ll continue to bury their submissions until they change their ways and become conservatives.”
-phoenixtx (aka vrayz)

Digg.com is the powerhouse of social media websites. It is ranked 50th among US websites by Alexa (117th in the world), by far the most influential social media site. It reached one million users in 2007 and likely has more than tripled that by this point. Digg generates around 25 million page views per month, over one third of the page views of the NY Times. Front page stories regularly overwhelm and temporarily shut down websites in a process called the “Digg Effect.”

I had wondered why Climate Progress posts are often picked up on the social media site Reddit, but rarely on Digg.  This may not be the reason, of course, but it is curious.

Certainly there is a larger pattern here.  Big Oil and the special interest polluters fund right wing think tanks to develop anti-science, pro-pollution talking points that they spread online (see “From promoting acid rain to climate denial “” over 20 years of David Koch’s polluter front groups“).

Anti-science conservatives and libertarians spend a staggering amount of time overwhelming the comments section on unmoderated websites — especially newspapers — with those talking points.  Characteristically, they charge censorship whenever sites like mine refuse to post their long-debunked disinformation or their misrepresentations of science.

And, of course, the right wing promotes direct disinformation online and cyber-bullying (see UK Guardian slams Morano for cyber-bullying and for urging violence against climate scientists).

Here’s how they do it on Digg:

The concept behind the site is simple. Submitted webpages (news, videos, or images) can be voted up (digging) or down (burying) by each user, sort of a democracy in the internet model. If an article gets enough diggs, it leaves the upcoming section and reaches the front page where most users spend their time, and can generate thousands of page views.

This model also made it very susceptible to external gaming whereby users from certain groups attempt to push their viewpoint or articles to the front page to give them traction. This was evident with the daily spamming of the upcoming Political section with white supremacist material from the British National Party (articles which rarely reached the front page). The inverse of this effect is more devastating however. Bury brigades could effectively remove stories from the upcoming sections by collectively burying them.

One bury brigade in particular is a conservative group that has become so organized and influential that they are able to bury over 90% of the articles by certain users and websites submitted within 1-3 hours, regardless of subject material. Literally thousands of stories have already been artificially removed from Digg due to this group. When a story is buried, it is removed from the upcoming section (where it is usually at for ~24 hours) and cannot reach the front page, so by doing this, this one group is removing the ability of the community as a whole to judge the merits or interest of these stories on their own (in essence: censoring content). This group is known as the Digg “Patriots”.

You can read the rest of the expos© here.

Digg later dismissed claims of censorship, but, as Wikipedia noted, “On 26 August 2010 Digg upgraded to Version 4, and the bury button was removed.”

I’d be very interested in your experiences online and thoughts on this general topic.

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11 Responses to Digg this: Conservative efforts to manipulate the public discussion extend to social media

  1. David Smith says:

    On page 15 of “Merchants of Doubt” it reads as follows;

    “The tobacco industry was thrown into a panic. One industry memo noted that their salesmen were ‘frantically alarmed.’ So the industry executives made a fateful decision, one that would later become the basis on which a federal judge would find the industry guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud – a massive and ongoing fraud to decieve the American public about the health effects of smoking. The decision was to hire a public relations firm to challenge the scientific evidence that smoking could kill you.”

    The authors continue to describe a campaign suprisingly simmilar to the present efforts by big energy to mislead the public about the negative impacts of AGW. Six compaies agreed to work togather to “convince the publicthat there was no ‘sound scientific basis for the charges,’and that the recent reportswere simply ‘sensational accusations’ made by publicity-seaking scientists hoping to attract more funds for their research.” Sound familiar?

    The present dis-information campaign has been going on for 30 years. Is the problem that Big Energy Executives never got togather in one room, or that we just don’t know that they did? It’s time to find the evidence and shut them down. Out of hundreds of thaousands of employees, we only need a few whistle blowers. Anyone interested?

  2. Anna Haynes says:

    It’s a race to the bottom – in an ecosystem shrouded in secrecy, with no quality-based filtration, the sleaziest faction prevails.

    …a faction whose ethics often seem to boil down to “we’ll tear down the system if it helps us to win”

    We shouldn’t be surprised. THIS IS WHY ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION SHOULD BE TAUGHT IN EVERY SCHOOL – people need to be equipped with the conceptual tools to grasp the salient features of the system and how it & its players will evolve – who will (& won’t) game it and how.

  3. Anna Haynes says:

    re David Smith#1′s
    > “Out of hundreds of thaousands of employees, we only need a few whistle blowers. Anyone interested?”

    “If you want to be admired, do something admirable.”
    We need you.

  4. Norm Roulet says:

    I have long been aware that realNEO content and search activity is obstructed in many illegal ways, as is seen with Digg… :

    We’ve had extensive problems with Trolls on realNEO.us (social media site over 8,000 members – very progressive) posting inflammatory or misleading content and comments, via accounts established to inflict harm – a crime I have asked County Treasurer Rokakis to have the State Attorney General investigate, as Rokakis was party in one of these crimes.

    I have long been aware that realNEO content and search activity is obstructed in many illegal ways, as is seen with Digg – the search and find systems of the Internet are now completely broken – corrupted by industry and government – and harm society more than help – Google, Bing, Digg et al must be replaced as soon as possible.

    See http://realneo.us/content/i-have-long-been-aware-realneo-content-and-search-activity-obstructed-many-illegal-ways-seen

  5. _Flin_ says:

    Whistleblowers? What for? Everything is really out in the open. It’s not as if the contribution to Public Policy “Think Tanks” from ExxonMobil, Scaife Foundation, Heritage Foundation, Kochs etc. pp. aren’t well documented.

    I think the only open question right now is who exactly is funding the British Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

    Concerning SocialMedia: Wherever you go there are heated debates in the comments sections. The more mainstream the paper, the better standing the denialists have. When you come to rightwing papers, it gets outright ridiculous, aggressive and mind-boggling.

  6. Chris Winter says:

    Coupled with their “freakout” over the Tea Party Tracker site, this perfect example of the Right Wing’s chronic hypocrisy. They continually seek to block, delete or distort opposing views — doing so in secret where possible — but stridently protest the mere reporting of their public activities as “smears.”

  7. David Smith says:

    Flin @ #5 – On the surface this is about individuals arguing opinion,… free speach, but deep inside there are powerful, thoughtful people who know Anthropomorphic Global Warming is going to kill and harm lots of people and their interests. In spite of this, they are exerting considerable effort to influence and mislead the public in order to maximise profit. If this is protected behavior under our laws and customs, we are in a worse place than I thought. So, conspiracy to commit fraud is now protected as free speech when corporations are involved?

  8. mike roddy says:

    The deniers took it to another level in the comments section of something I did last January, www:tinyurl.com/2flcvzy.

    It was a piece in Buffalo Beast ridiculing deniers, including satirical descriptions and artistic renderings of people like Blankenship and Monckton. Readers of this online magazine are mostly young artistic types, with few opinions about climate change, and if they have opinions they are sensible ones.

    The Beast article was heavily hammered in the comments section with all of the standard denier BS, sounding just like the ones on Dot Earth, WUWT, etc. It’s not enough that Koch, Redstone, and Murdoch own all of the media. They are so controlling and paranoid that they even send their trolls after offbeat blogs that criticize them.

  9. fj2 says:

    May ultimately improve public discussion with people more clued to not falling victim of embarrassing dysrationalia.

  10. Cheryl Rofer says:

    My computer guy recommended a Firefox add-on to me – Web of Trust, or WOT. It warns when you’re likely to get viruses from a site, or it it has content not suitable for children.

    But it relies on user input.

    So when I went to the Tea Party Tracker site the other day, I got a WOT warning. When I drilled down, it was clear that rightwingers are inputting bad reviews to drive the WOT rating down.

  11. Deborah Stark says:

    “…..Anti-science conservatives and libertarians spend a staggering amount of time overwhelming the comments section on unmoderated websites — especially newspapers — with those talking points. Characteristically, they charge censorship whenever sites like mine refuse to post their long-debunked disinformation or their misrepresentations of science…..”

    ***
    Yes. This is exactly right. And they’ve been at this for years. A lot of these people are retired military with all the time in the world to spend making their daily rounds from one serious discussion venue to another. Their prime objective is to DISRUPT CONTINUITY of information sharing and analysis and, absolutely yes, they will cry “censorship” whenever anyone calls them on what they’re doing.

    I’ve been rather heavily involved in climate change research and discussion venues since 1999 and have observed these trolls directly and repeatedly targeting the particularly knowledgeable and articulate posters, in many cases going so far as to infiltrate these posters’ personal e-mail accounts with viruses, send threatening e-mails to their personal accounts, call their employers, etc. I am not kidding. Some of these thugs will stop at nothing to destroy a constructive and informative climate change discussion venue.