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The propaganda machine or my imagination?
March 24, 2009 11:19 AM   Subscribe

Am I imagining things or has there lately been a surge of right-wing opinion dominating the forums of popular sites like digg and reddit?

It seems like people are voting up weird random articles like this one and then circle jerking away about regulation=bad, government=bad, Obama=BigBrother=communism, taxes=bad, etc. usually talking points.

Are these sites always prone to just being anti-establishment regardless of the party in power or is this a planned tactic on the part of American conservatives to address their prior failings in handling the internet? I've seen some links to what appear to be goon squads doing this but has anyone written a substantive evaluation of this phenomenon and how organized it may be? Also have the folks that run such sites addressed the fact that they may be used as propaganda devices and attempted to develop means to combat this?
posted by drpynchon to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
reddit seems to be as much of a lefty/libertarian site as ever, but that's not based on any quantitative evidence. And to my knowledge, they don't have any anti-propaganda mechanisms as the difference between propaganda and the truth is pretty subjective.
posted by GuyZero at 11:21 AM on March 24, 2009


I've noticed this as well. Seems to be coordinated and almost comes in waves.
posted by barc0001 at 11:22 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, there is no conspiracy. Yes, it's just you. No, "they" aren't out to get you. Even suggesting that "American conservatives" are halfway organized enough to do something like this at best gives them far too much credit and at worst is downright paranoid.

If you're noticing anything it's simply a response to the trillions in deficit spending proposed in the last two months.

Get a grip.
posted by valkyryn at 11:24 AM on March 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some partisan sites sometimes encourage their readers to go forth and multiply (comments, that is). I have seen several calls for this kind of activity on a couple of partisan sites in the past few months.

You could Google "freeping" if you cared to learn more.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:26 AM on March 24, 2009


Though I should say that the origin of the eponym is not the only site to do this. Lots of sites, from lots of political alignments, make such calls.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:27 AM on March 24, 2009


It's actually a good question because there really are PR firms paid to do stuff like this.
posted by Kirklander at 11:28 AM on March 24, 2009


Are these sites always prone to just being anti-establishment regardless of the party in power

Yes. See if you can pull up some archives from 2007. "Goon squads" from positions that you would find unobjectionable also exist. People threadshit all the time about HURF DURF 9/11 TROOF, PON RAUL, OMG I <3 OBAMA, BUSHITELR, SAVETHEPLANETMAAAAAAAAN, EXXONSUXORS, etc.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:28 AM on March 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think its that these nerd sites, especially reddit, are dominated by the techno-libertarian/ayn-rand-y types that are so frequently found in SilVal and engineering culture. Now that a more progressive administration is in power, the points where the techno-libertarians differ from the progressive way of thinking (against regulation, etc.) are coming to the fore, whereas when a right-leaning administration was in power, those sites highlighted areas where they differed from that way of thinking (e.g. strong support civil liberties).
posted by jeb at 11:29 AM on March 24, 2009 [15 favorites]


No, there is no conspiracy. Yes, it's just you. No, "they" aren't out to get you. Even suggesting that "American conservatives" are halfway organized enough to do something like this at best gives them far too much credit and at worst is downright paranoid.

There's been too much collusion between various right wing think tanks, big media pundits and fake grass roots organizations over the years to take that seriously. Think about, "Chicago Tea Party" for a minute.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:40 AM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Anecdotally, a lot of liberal people I know who would otherwise be blogging/commenting/whatever people do on the internet have used the last few months to step away from their computers. Following all the news, all the time is fatiguing, and some of them have consciously decided that it would be healthier for them if they take a break from politics for a few months. On the flip side, a lot of conservatives I know who had been happy with just watching Fox News for the past 8 years begin spending more and more time online during the election, and now there's all kind of inner-party feuding and reorganization going on that they'd like to weigh in on.
posted by Benjy at 12:15 PM on March 24, 2009


Jeb nailed it. A lot of these sites are populated mostly by anti-government, libertarian types with a strong streak of contrarianism too. So they're bound to carp and complain, unless there's an administration in power that essentially decides to dismantle itself, but even then, they'd probably still complain.
posted by decoherence at 12:23 PM on March 24, 2009


It's not just you. I've got an RSS subscription to Digg, and have also noticed an uptick in right-wing stories since the inauguration. I don't read Reddit, so I can't comment on that, but the following probably applies to it, too.

Certain groups within the Republican party have committed to promoting the conservative brand more heavily on the internet, which they feel have been dominated for too long by liberal opinions. So they set up organizations like DontGo and NewsPlatoon, which coordinate their membership on sites like Digg (through third-party sites like #DiggCons) to systematically vote for approved stories.

The effect is especially pronounced on Digg, I think, since the site's design has placed more emphasis on personal recommendations and linking users who upvote one story to related stories. Before these features, most users relied on generic "Upcoming" queues for each topic on the site, which lists the stories that are becoming popular and are in line for making the front page. Any article that was not popular with the mainstream users would get voted down before it could climb to the top of the queue.

Now, though, fewer people watch these queues, which makes it easier for groups of users to upvote a story to the front page before anyone notices. Once the story gains a mainstream audience it is usually removed quickly as the membership downvotes it en masse, but it's still an effective method for gaining pageviews.

What's odd is how many disparate groups have been upping their submission rate. The sites I mentioned above are the clearest examples of coordinated promotion, but a look at the Upcoming queues shows several other groups apparently doing the same thing.

The biggest offender is Examiner.com, a social blogging platform. There appears to be a core group of Examiner users that cross-promote eachother's stories, which are invariably very short, low on content, and high on partisan outrage. They're also very prolific -- more than 2000 pages of submissions from the site have been received so far, and dozens of these submissions, even crappy ones, routinely reach the upper levels of the political Upcoming sections. They also seem to be heavy on the anti-gun-control articles.

Another group that's been spamming the site is the British National Party, a fringe right-wing anti-immigrant party in the UK, which appear to be pushing the narrative that their membership is swelling and on the verge of becoming mainstream. I've also seen a lot of stuff from the Alex Jones/Truther/conspiracy theorist folks, especially links to documentaries like Zeitgeist and The Obama Deception.

Some links to the Upcoming queues to see all this in action:

Politics
Political Opinion
posted by Rhaomi at 1:12 PM on March 24, 2009 [8 favorites]


Reddit's been skewing younger and younger. The number one story is something about some moron drawing a penis on his parent's house. I've noticed a lot of misogyny. Just dumb stuff, kid stuff. It's pretty unreadable.

But in answer to your question, I think it's less right wing than "young boys," and not interesting ones, either, the kind of insufferable know-it-all who grows up and votes for Mike Huckabee, after extolling the virtues of the mildly batshit crazy Ron Paul throughout his twenties, who sincerely believes that one should be very concerned that a woman would get pregnant to trap them into twenty years of child support payments.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:23 PM on March 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


To clarify, I'm not suggesting that drawing a picture of a penis is an example of misogyny.

Sorry, I haven't slept since mid-2008.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:25 PM on March 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think with sites like Reddit, once a certain point of view takes hold, it gets a lot harder to hold a differing opinion. The reader base becomes more and more like the loudest members, and becomes unwelcoming for others.

(Anecdote: I finally quit reading Reddit when one of the top stories was a picture of this guy, someone made a justifiably-offended comment about sexism, and someone else replied, "Um, it's not sexism, it's humor. Lighten up." The "lighten up" comment received more upvotes than its parent.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:40 PM on March 24, 2009


As far as right-wing opinion dominating Digg is concerned, yes, you are imagining things.
posted by Dr.Pill at 2:02 PM on March 24, 2009


I finally quit reading Reddit when one of the top stories was a picture of this guy

Oh good lord.

Yeah, that's what I meant.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:03 PM on March 24, 2009


The intermocracy at work
posted by edgeways at 2:30 PM on March 24, 2009


Don't you remember "when it comes to the economy..."? One of the GOP's most used tactics is message-shitting the public discourse.
posted by gjc at 4:23 PM on March 24, 2009


When they differ with you, it's a conspiracy.

When people organize group posting/ranking initiatives on sites--whether those "people" are a left-wing website, a right-wing website, a libertarian website, or a "best of the web" forum--those people are gaming the system.

And everyone who's saying "Nobody's gaming the system" seems to have a broken Google. There are lots of people and groups and businesses gaming the system.

Some of them are doing it for profit and some of them are doing it as an experiment, kind of and some of them do it to advance their political causes and some of them just do it for lulz.

Now, there may be a lot of observation bias here; if I'm a big fan of raspberry Jell-O, I may think that all the raspberry Jell-O posts are voted up by people of refined taste and intelligence, and that all the strawberry Jell-O posts are voted up by paid shills and/or a horde of sheeple from StrawberryJellORules.com.

Fact is, there's probably shilling in both, and individual opinions being expressed in both. Saying that there's no shilling and no goonrushes out there is just not paying attention.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:21 PM on March 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Visit the freerepublic and watch some of the threads. They will post links to digg so they can game the comments. This is pretty common. Digg is incredibly schizophrenic because each entry seems to have been gamed by a different group. Its also interesting to look at the user accounts of some of the more extreme posters. Many have been created recently just to spam the site.

In the meantime low-profile places that no one in the media cares about still seem to have the same editorial slant. Slashdot and reddit are still libertarian with token liberals. Metafilter is still left-leaning.

Digg is a big target. Personally, I think these people and the "super submitters" have killed what could have been a great site.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:44 AM on March 25, 2009


Thanks for all the responses guys. It's still seems to me that their would be ways from the standpoint of adjusting the scoring algorithms to combat potential attacks from any group (right, left or Martian) without ruining the experience of people who aren't trying to game the system. I wonder if and to what extent the digg folks have thought about and dealt with that..
posted by drpynchon at 8:13 PM on March 25, 2009


It's still seems to me that their would be ways from the standpoint of adjusting the scoring algorithms to combat potential attacks from any group (right, left or Martian) without ruining the experience of people who aren't trying to game the system. I wonder if and to what extent the digg folks have thought about and dealt with that..

I don't know about Digg, but I know a little about Reddit's corporate overloads. My understanding is that that Conde Nast isn't on the best terms with any of it's fazigillion arms, and that most importantly, as they pointed out in The Wire, a cheap crappy newspaper is more profitable than a quality newspaper. And online comments drive traffic--stupid, incendiary comments drive a lot of traffic. It's a Howard Stern/Rush Limbaugh model.

My theory--and it's just theory, is that they don't do any keeping track of IPs and you can pretty much have an infinite number of puppets, and that a good part of the algorithm looks at momentum--up votes in a given time period, so one moron and a half dozen of his friends can push some dumb story high up enough, quickly enough, that it gets more eyes on it, and the more people see it the more up votes it gets legitimately, and there are probably a few informal groups of friends that work to propel their stories up and others down.

Also, I'm not under the impression that their site traffic is down, in fact, I think it's up even though since 2006 it's been getting steadily more illiterate.

Grain of salt, though, because I'm awake as not so much a binary condition/asleep v. awake as something I could represent fractionally, like 33% awake.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:27 AM on March 28, 2009


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