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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.

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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.