An undercover investigation by the website AlterNet claims to have uncovered a conservative group’s organized campaign to censor Digg, the world’s largest social media organization. The coordinated censorship is responsible for “burying” several thousand articles within three to four hours of being posted.
Digg.com exists as a social site, where users can submit media stories to share with other users. Many have claimed that it is a form of digital media democracy, where people choose the stories and news worth reporting, then pass it on to their peers who vote whether or not it is worth the read. When a story receives enough “diggs”, it will reach the front page, which can then lead to thousands of new page hits for the website that posted the article. Digg is responsible for roughly 25 million page views per month, and front-page articles can frequently overwhelm websites and cause them to shut down- something known as the “digg effect”. Currently, Digg is the 50th most visted website in the US, and among the top 120 in the world.
In theory, the most interesting stories rise to the top, while the less popular stories tend to get buried. There is, however, a tactic called “gaming”, where groups coordinate their efforts to bury or digg stories. The act of gaming is against Digg’s terms of service, but proving it can be extremely difficult.
For over a year, AlterNet has been investigating one such group involved with gaming, the “Digg Patriots,” an extremely right-leaning conservative group that targets anything they see as being liberal, progressive, in support of the Democratic party, or any of a dozen other topics that include Obama, homosexuality, and abortion rights. The list is very, very long. The group also has connection to social networks Facebook, Twitter, and more. It is hard to estimate how many people belong to the group, as several of the listed members on the Digg Patriots Yahoo Group page, the site they use to keep in contact, are inactive or may be duplicate accounts for users in case one account is banned. Since the original posting of the investigation, the group page has disappeared from Yahoo Groups. The final comment on the page before it was deleted read “WE’VE BEEN EXPOSED!!!!!”
Although the bulk of the group’s censorship seems to be directed towards political posts, it is in no way limited to just that. The report claims that the Digg Patriots frequently attack articles based on education, homophobia, racism, wealth disparity, green energy, and anything critical of conservative groups such as the Tea Party, as well as conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. The group also frequently buries stories from individual users that they dislike, who may have posted topics as innocuous as “Celtics take Lead in NBA Finals” which can be buried into obscurity within hours.
The article also highlights another tactic of the Digg Patriots: to target individual users and try to have them banned. One way to do this is to deliberately enrage users and try to bait them into saying something that could violate the terms of service. The investigation cites several examples, including the use of lying to administrators — in one instance a man lied and claimed to be African-American in order to claim that his target had said something that offended him as an African-American.
Although this form of censorship network is prohibited by Digg, who claim to be looking into it, there is currently very little that can be done about it. Many of the Digg Patriots have multiple accounts, and when one is banned, they simply switch to another. If the user receives a more severe ban that locks out the IP, the Digg Patriots have several methods to hide an IP address that they pass on to their users. A new version of Digg is on the way, and one of the changes will be the removal of the “bury” button, to be replaced with a “report” button, which should help alleviate this type of planned attacks on particular posts.