Social Media, Anti-Social Problems


Earlier today Steve Rubel wrote about a fake news story about Sony recalling its brand new Sony Playstation 3 console, and thus fooling many Diggers into clicking their vote. Actually the problem is much bigger, and not isolated to just Digg, and it represents a growing threat to the whole social media phenomenon.

Niall Kennedy has spent a lot of time investigating many of the issues and has published a must read article today. He looked at some of the questionable posts on Digg, and followed the link trail which let him to a dental plan site, a church and a company probably based in Bangladesh. The link trail is also littered with money, a lot of money.

The dental plan site, that gamed Digg to get higher page rank gets about $40 a referral, Kennedy writes. He explains how the game works… interesting reading!

The bloggers have been dealing with issues of comment and trackback spam, though some tools like Akismet have helped. But the intensity of spam continues to grow. (Akismet has caught about 500,000 pieces of spam in our comment system.) There have been reports about MySpace being used to spread spyware, and spam sites. This problem is not going away any time soon.

Social media sites and search engines need to stay on top of this new form of content creation, continually analyzing data and scrubbing out the dirt. Sites overrun with web spam quickly lose their utility and might be banned from search engines.


Shefaly Yogendra

I may be being naive, but should this not have been expected?

Even if we were all to colonise Mars suddenly, the only social and behavioural ‘norms’ we truly understand are those prevalent on our Earth so we will inevitably carry them there. So it works with the alternative society being created in social networks on the web.

In the physical (real) world wherever we go, we are bombarded by messages of commercial, social and political import, in all shades, sizes and hues; we do not always investigate, or even are aware of issues like the righteous sounding, fresh food vending Pret a Manger may be part-owned by McDonald’s, the purveyor of speedy food. The web makes it easy to establish these links, so I guess just because we know we raise eyebrows aplenty?

Are we implying that in the real world, ignorance is an excusable bliss, but not in the virtual world? How does that compute?

Apologies if this is forcing you all to think too much about philosophical paradigms and the ontology vs. the epistemology of the real world versus the virtual world..


I think this post misses the major benefit of social filtering, which is that you get overall a way better filter but it has the occasional glitch.

With a more refined collaborative filter than Digg currently uses, it is arguable that diggers who tended to digg extremely reliable stories and tended not to digg less reliable ones would never have even seen this spoof story on the homepage at all.

Digg’s CF algorithm casts a very wide and course net because the site is frankly entertainment driven, not niche interest or accuracy driven.

This is likely an intentional choice on the part of Kevin and those who wrote the algorithm.

Even almost-defunct Slashdot used to publish a false story now and then in spite of its tight fisted editorial control, as does the NY Times (most notably, the stuff about Iraqi WMDs).

I personally got a bit of amusement from the notion that the PS3 had been recalled, and found it odd that the story hadn’t made more of a dent given how significant it would be for Sony to falter again after its recent troubles. So as far as I’m concerned, Digg’s algorithm worked as designed and social media worked as designed.

Pramit Singh

Social news sites have a problem. I have a written in detail about the problems with sites like Digg, the alternatives and how to create better news sites.

Ez E

As somebody who identifies with old-school quality journalism, I’ll have a quiet chuckle to myself when the smug superiority of the new media digerati gets brought down to earth due to the inevitable evil outgrowths of the tech phenomona they champion.

You live by the sword, you die by the sword.

Note that I’m not talking about this blog, which keeps it real.



I would almost argue that Digg has indeed already reached the masses. My friends who are nowhere near tech savvy were even discussing one of the latest articles at dinner last night.

alan patrick


Anti-Social Media (ASM?)is a major issue already, I have blogged on these issues before over the last few weeks on my blog Broadstuff here as it is clear that many people just don’t “get” how gamed this is now, never mind what it will be in future.

History suggests that the wisdom of the crowds in the Silent Majority is always “gamed” by activists in any field where there is a payoff. Digg et al are just the 18th century “Rotten Borough” moved to cyberspace – thats why Voters have to register these days!

Sad thing is, its not just “evil guys” doing the ASM, in some ways the existing players have opened the field up with condoning / sponsoring / ignoring gaming while growing (Digg, MySpace come to mind)

The issue is what to do to stop it, as the individual site will always lose the arms race. I think new forms of collaborative Trust will have to be set up, based on validated identities possibly with ratings attached.

By the did way you also see the Google Click to Call pranking – VoiPSpam will be the next big one I propose.


I enjoy your appearances Om, which is how I arrived here.

Regarding search engines and web clog, I’m ready to plug what amounts to a spam filter turned on its ear between Google and my search results.

There are dozens of worthless (to me) domains I never need to see for the thousandth time in my search results. I already know their content is skewed, ad bloated, or just a messy read.

Perhaps Google and Yahoo and Live (dot) com, as well as content providers and advertisers will clean up the web clog when entire domains go dark from web search results.

Klaus Kohlert

This is why especially Digg is not worth much money. Spammers and kids gaming Digg for fun will kill the site, just wait until Digg reaches the masses.


Great post. I think that this disturbing trend, coupled with bloated tag clouds, inadequate tag management software, a lack of common best practices or standards governing the culture of tagging/folksonomy, and the lack of user-rating (or peer review) systems (e.g. ebay user feedback) threaten the entire social media [r]evolution and our ability to bring it to the masses.

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