Digg Dirt: Exposing Ron Paul’s Social Media Manipulation
There are rumors of Ron Paul supporters manipulating Digg. I’ve got the names and the evidence.
A funny thing happened last month. I wrote a blog post about the history of Digg.com as part of my study of the social bookmarking site. Normally when posting, my entries receive little to no response on Digg, which is fine since it’s hardly viral stuff. When I posted the “history” blog, however, I received a whopping 17 diggs, a number I had never reached with this blog before.
Realizing that something must be up, I did a little investigating. To my surprise, the majority of people that dugg my post were supporters of Republican Congressman from Texas Ron Paul, a Libertarian and presidential candidate.
When I say “Ron Paul supporters,” I mean that these people ONLY digg stories about Ron Paul, and many of them don’t read the actual content of submissions. My “history” post had Ron Paul’s name in the title (Digg Dirt: From the Digg Army to Ron Paul) but had only the minutest mention of him in the article – I referenced how a push from Digg may have resulted in him getting on the Daily show. The piece itself had NOTHING to do with Ron Paul!
So why the Diggs? Who are these people? The “Ron Paul Army” has a very strong and unified presence on Digg, but no one calls them out on it – at least not on the individual level. Ron Paulers are organized and networked. They are “friends” on Digg. Their mission: Digg every story with even a slight mention of Ron Paul in order to keep his name in the public eye. How can I say that? RyanUnderdown.com has done a pretty good job of cataloging memos related to the planned Digg manipulation. Check them out here.
Paul’s critics at RadioLeft.com explain Paul’s popularity on Digg.com thusly:
“The unlikely arc of Ron Paul's rise to popularity on Digg is interesting, because this is a case where the alleged wisdom of crowds is now shaping the public debate… It also should be noted that the early focus of Digg was on technology, and that the prevailing view of its users is that they are tech savvy, educated, and lean politically to the center-left if anywhere at all. The increasing number of political stories on the front page is a relatively recent development, and many Digg users may not be familiar with what political sites have credibility.”
Now, I have no opinions on Paul’s political platform nor do I have any political agenda of my own. I merely seek to point out that what Ron Paul’s supporters and active campaigners are doing is wrong for the following 2 reasons:
1) Collusion is a violation of Digg.com’s Terms of Service.
2) Agenda bloggers, in this case agenda diggers, must engage in transparency or full disclosure in order to ensure ethical practices.
The first is easy to prove. Article 3 Section 9 in Digg’s Terms of Service states:
A group of networked Ron Paul supporters with enough votes to get a Ron Paul story out of the Upcoming Stories bin every time (an action that requires around 12-15 diggs) is most certainly “artificially altering” the results.
The second point is a little harder to demonstrate. Without transparency, there is no accountability, and people can be misled by bias or unverified sources. This is why we explain who we are in blogs and link to our sources. It’s the only way to be sure that we’re accountable to the public for our actions. Perhaps this instance will clarify:
A digg user “mstebbins” submits the entry Ron Paul Army Engage to Digg. The referenced article is this one from StudentsForPaul.org posted by Jeff Frazee. The problem: “mstebbins” and Frazee are part of the same circle of Ron Paul diggers, submitting Paul-related entries and actively promoting their candidate. On Digg, however, their profiles make no mention of their political agenda. In fact, the only thing listed in Jeff Frazee’s profile is his handle “jefffrazee.” If he wanted his diggs to be reputable concerning his active agenda, then he should list the political blog for which he posts in his profile. By the way, mstebbins is really Marianne Stebbins, Libertarian Party member “10 years ago or so” and author of the Paul blog On Scribbler's Mind. Perhaps she should have mentioned that on Digg.
Most of the Ron Paul supporters’ real identities can be found by searching Libertarian Meetup Groups and comparing Digg names. Many use a first initial and last name as a handle. None reference their own political blogs or agendas.
This type of organization may keep Ron Paul’s name on Digg and in RSS feeds, but it also creates Digg spam and blog spam. Resistance Intelligencer wrote an excellent post about Ron Paul, Digg, Spam and everything. By pushing up agenda articles, the group is undermining the democratic purpose of social bookmarking. Digg has received a fair amount of accusations as to whether it is truly democratic. If the Top User debacle last year failed to demonstrate Digg’s vulnerability to collusion and the herd effect, then the Ron Paul manipulation surely shows the site’s lack of democracy – ironic considering this is being done for political reasons.
The Ron Paul web manipulation is not limited to Digg either. Ron Paul is the number one search term for blogs. He has the most subscribers on Youtube. Ron Paul has the most friends on Myspace, Friendster and Facebook. He has won every single Internet straw poll (his supporters use bots to vote multiple times). The problem is that his web popularity does not translate to real world popularity. His fame is a product of online spammers alone.
Obviously, the man has some support to sustain this kind of guerrilla campaign, and I’m not here to dispute his political strategies. Clearly, his tactics, although unethical, are working. Supporters have pushed him into prominent interviews with everyone from Joe Scarborough to Jon Stewart and got him into the Iowa Debate. Even the tactic itself has drawn press; just look at what Wired wrote about Paul.
Not playing within the rules of social media, however, is inexcusable. Masquerading as genuine Digg Users (as well as MySpace. Facebook, YouTube, and Friendster users) in order to influence others is not ethical. It is schilling. If mass manipulation is the weapon of choice for the Paul camp, then I hope it does not translate to the methods of the man himself.
What follows is a list of 30 Digg Users that are bonafide Ron Paul spammers. If your name is on this list, it is because you are networked in to all of the other Ron Paul spammers, do not link to the Ron Paul blog for which you write, and/or Digg Ron Paul-related stories almost exclusively:
9. Jeff Frazee
I’m all for freedom of political expression, but it must be done ethically and without the intent to mislead one’s audience. Even guerrilla campaigns need to keep it clean.