Something I’ve come to realize with age is that there’s almost always a purpose or agenda behind – well, nearly everything – and once you’re no longer oblivious to this fact, it becomes far more difficult to enjoy things or accept them at face value.
Take social news aggregators, for example.
With an Alexa global rank of 24 and a US rank of seven, Reddit is without a doubt one of the top destinations to discover and discuss news of all sorts. It seems innocent enough at first glance and while some content you’ll find there is truly organic, a lot of it is strategically shared as Forbes points out in a recent feature.
In a bid to discover just how easy it is to manipulate what you see on Reddit, Forbes’ Jay McGregor and Phil Harper were able to game Reddit by using two made-up stories that they posted to subreddits /r/Video and /r/UnitedKingdom. For under $200, the duo was able to get their stories to the number one and number two spots on their chosen subreddits by buying fake accounts and fake upvotes through a handful of different avenues.
The real story here isn’t how they pulled the caper off but rather, the fact that you really shouldn’t be surprised that people – advertisers, marketers, website owners, politicians, attention-seekers and so on – have an interest to do so and that virtually any system can be gamed if you put your mind (and / or wallet) to it.
Digg, if you remember, was once the go-to news aggregator for millions around the world. Like Reddit, users could submit stories for consideration by their peers. If a story got enough upvotes, it would be promoted to the front page which in turn would send a tremendous amount of traffic to the linked site. Often times, smaller sites were unable to handle the influx of traffic and would crash, a phenomenon known as the Digg effect (now the Reddit effect and formerly, the Slashdot effect).
The problem, however, is that this system was incredibly easy to game (at least, early on). All one needed to do was take part in – or better yet, hire – a Digg Army, a large group of people that would upvote your story (or downvote a story you dislike) in exchange for money (or if you were part of the Army, in exchange for your support of other members' submissions). Organized promotion is what it boiled down to and it made lots of people a lot of money.
Sites like Reddit no doubt learned from such mistakes and have built their algorithms to be much more complex and harder to get the upper-hand on. Volunteer moderators also help yet, with enough determination and a few bucks, its defenses can easily be overcome.
Video courtesy Forbes