Political censorship and moderator bias on reddit.com

In the last few months, users of the popular social bookmarking site Reddit.com, have begun to unearth an unsettling amount of evidence that moderators, who police submissions sent to the site, are unfairly removing popular submissions to the /r/politics subreddit, by claiming they are off-topic.

Some submissions attain many hundreds of comments and up-votes, before being inexplicably removed. In many cases, the user who submitted the post also finds their account blocked from making any further posts to that group, and are often given short shrift by the moderator who imposed the ban, when asked for an explanation.

Users of the subreddit /r/Republican have long complained that their submissions to the /r/Politics group, are removed simply for being pro-Republican, while some users who post to the /r/AskReddit group, have been banned simply for asking why they were banned from another group without explanation.

What’s particularly curious about the seemingly arbitrary basis upon which topic removals and user account bans are imposed, is while there appears to be a great deal of sensitivity to highly politicised submissions to groups which are in the default subscription listings and so show up on the front page of the site even if a user is not signed in, the moderators of groups which contain extreme pornography, bullying, homophobia, racism, gory accident videos, and hate speech, remain completely unaffected.

Statistically it stands to reason that the ever growing popularity of Reddit makes it a target for viral marketing campaigners, and lobbyists, who want to push a certain narrative on behalf of private companies, and political pressure groups. And while it’s generally accepted that Reddit’s algorithms do a good job of automatically spotting links which have been artificially promoted to the front page, the job of keeping the most popular subreddits free of link bait is ultimately the job of human moderators.

This age old problem, which began in the earliest days of the internet on Bulletin Boards and UseNet, isn’t an easy one to fix. All online communities, which start small and become popular, have experienced difficulties in balancing the freedoms of the user, with the needs of the moderator to interpret the rules of the group appropriately.

But what’s becoming increasingly clear in certain highly contentious discussion groups, such as /r/News, and /r/Politics, according to users of the /r/PoliticalModeration subreddit, is that what perhaps started as one or two genuine mistakes, by certain moderators, has become a war of egos between the users who feel unfairly censored, and the actions of one or two overly zealous moderators, who now appear to be purposefully escalating the situation, in an attempt to cover their tracks.

What’s particularly unsettling is the sorts of stories which are actively removed, even after they have attracted a number of genuine up votes and comments. A quick glance down the page set up to highlight moderator abuses, shows numerous stories about the Koch brothers, articles critical of the nuclear waste industry and evidence of the Pentagon using social bookmarking sites like Reddit itself, for purposes of propaganda.

There are also numerous self-posts by ex-moderators, who have quit in protest at the abuses of their fellow users, including this one by a former moderator who discovered widespread abuse of the mod system, by users who were being paid to submit and promote certain stories to the front page, while removing posts which suggested this was unethical.

This former moderator was also told he didn’t qualify as a moderator of the /r/politics subreddit, because he had posted stories to the /r/Libertarian subreddit and so would have shown a bias. And if that doesn’t explode your irony meter, this story on political censorship at reddit (can we say meta meta?) was removed from /r/Politics, for highlighting the very problem of censorship on /r/Politics.

UPDATE: Here’s another user who is considering removing reddit buttons from his blog, because of exactly this sort of problem. http://somethingsurprising.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/why-this-might-become-reddit-free-zone.html


There’s something rotten in the state of reddit

The digg killer reddit.com has been hijacked in the last couple of days by a down-voting bot which it would appear the administrators are powerless to block.

Submit any story on any topic and within minutes it’s down-voted by as many votes as it has received up, sending stories submitted by genuine users to the back of the line, while a steady stream of NSFW posts make it to the top.

The atheism sub-reddit also appears to be being affected.

Someone, somewhere, is either trying to figure out a way to game the algorithm, to get their own stories onto the front page, or reddit themselves have been making some changes which aren’t working according to plan.

Either way, I think this screen shot speaks for itself…

Reddit errors

Reddit.com is the first port of call for millions of us addicted to social bookmarking—but recently they’ve had a fair old spate of errors which have taken them off line for hours on end. Here’s a couple of screen shots taken over just three days of the most common fault. It’s either a sure sign they need to put more coal in the back of the compooper internets masheen, or a sign I’ve read all there is to read and the carbon based world is beckoning.

Getting out there: Social bookmarking, artists, exposure and RSS

Julie Balish describes herself as an artist / adventurer. Her wordpress site contains some great photography and video of her work. She asked me that million dollar question about getting “out there”, and it reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to blog on for a while.

I’m old enough to remember the pre-internet days of self promotion as an artist. When still a teen, with a head full of magic about a career in the music business, it seemed like there was an unending list of resources to dip into for funding, exposure, gigs, equipment–you name it. Of course you had to contact all of the organisations, magazines, clubs, promoters, fanzines and so on individually, or pay a manager to co-ordinate it all for you. It was time consuming and a road littered with pitfalls for the individual who wanted to spend more time on creating and less time on marketing.
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Reddit.com upgrades

Reddit.com has added numerous subsections to the front page, which were always available before, but now are easier to get at and customise. There’s an (18+ advised) Not Safe For Work section and a number of other sub-categories in an improved, faster loading interface.

Reddit has been a lot more informative than Digg for a while, but these updates almost make it just as cool as digg too. I don’t mean cool in a small way – I mean it in the way that there’s only so many political dirt exposés, mainstream news bashing blogs and anti-scientology opinion pieces you can take in one day. The old site design suffered a lot for appearing to emphasise these stories and users who shared these views tended to club together and hog the agenda.

The new changes, however, make it easy to mix Lady titty (and I’m sure Man Willy if you’re into that) pics and filthy jokes, alongside a fair helping of serious content as well, to lighten the mood from page to page. Now that it’s easier to include more frivolous so-called subreddits on the main page (further customised in your preferences panel) it remains to be seen if reddit won’t loose something of what made it cool (as in nerdy) before.

Any changes made in an attempt to open a site up to a wider audience can’t be a bad thing and I’m already a big fan of the quicker loading and clutter free design – but I can’t help “feeling” like digg is still my homeboy. Reddit is a friendly enough gatecrasher – fairly well behaved when it’s drunk, but only really welcome to stay because it’s the buddy of someone you like and you know he’ll make sure it goes home quietly once the cheep booze has run out.

It’s still very frustrating that stories appear to have no sort-by-date relevance. If you leave page 1 open for as long as it takes to read three or four stories, by the time you open page 2 those same links from page 1 will reappear on that page and on page 3 and so on – until by page 4 you’re mixed up between what you read 2 days ago and stories which are still climbing the popularity ladder.

Not being a programmer I have no idea if this is something which it is easy to fix – or even if it something which reddit’s designers have done deliberately – although why that would be, I have no idea – since it’s one of a number of functionality issues, including the still broken and dreadfully unreliable search, which still have me going back to digg – where, for all it’s many issues, (the always promised but never delivered UseNet style comments system) digg still feels more mature; more like the gang leader, albeit one which shits itself in a fight and runs home crying for mummy.

http://www.reddit.com/r/Music/ – A much welcome feature is reddit’s Music Only section, which you can one-click include in your main page’s ‘feed’, or by clicking in the bold new (love it or hate it) right-hand side pane.