Digg Controversy Over Censorship is Overblown


Disclosure: I love digg a lot. I also have the distinction of having the most dugg story ever and belong to the same advertising network, FM Media, as digg.

Well social news site Digg is facing the firing squad of the blogosphere today after earlier this morning the site Forever Geek declared, “Digg Corrupted: Editor’s Playground, not User-Driven Website.” Slashdot chimed in and a whole host of others followed as well. At issue here are a few things. First off digg is being accused of censorship. Digg is being accused of removing stories based on editorial fiat. Digg’s also been accused of banning certain members and sites from their news services.

Earlier today I emailed Kevin Rose on the news asking for a response and Kevin emailed back saying, “It’s clear that we need to show ‘WHY’ stories are pulled. Expect to see that in a future version of digg.” He also pointed me to the post where he addresses the issue formally on the digg blog.

On the digg blog Kevin added: “Missing stories: A common question we receive is the confusion surrounding missing stories. Once a story has received enough user reports it is automatically removed from the digg queue or homepage (depending on where the story is living at that time). The number of reports required varies depending on how many diggs the story has. This system is going to change in the near future. Shortly after the next major launch of digg (v3.1), reported stories will fall into a ‘buried stories’ bin. Users will have the ability to pick through this story bin and vote to have a story reinstated should they believe it was falsely reported. Expect to see this feature in the next few months.”

Now I’ve had a bit of experience with Digg. I’ve had many stories dugg to the front page and have the distinction of having the most dugg story ever on the site. Being pretty familiar with the ways that Digg can be potentially abused it is natural that they would need to have safeguards in place to prevent fraud from taking place. Digg moves traffic like very few other sites today. For many people, traffic means ad revenue. Gaming the system is tempting and if digg did not have internal controls in place then the site could very quickly lose the natural relevancy that social news networking has. It’s smart for Digg to pull stories when they think that there are problems with them.

The issue here as Kevin correctly addresses is that they need to show ‘WHY’ stories are pulled and it sounds like this will be coming shortly. Personally I have no problem with digg pulling stories when they suspect vote fraud or they see spam or they see abuse of their system. Heck I’ve had stories that should have made it on the front page that didn’t or were pulled from the queue for whatever reason etc. While it would be nice to know why I seriously doubt digg is engaging in whimsical censorship. Recently I had a story on Zooomr that hit the front page and then was quickly pulled. The next thing you know a blog post popped up that suggested that Digg pulled the story because of a hosting relationship with Yahoo! and that the article might have seemed to favor Zooomr as a competitor to Yahoo!’s Flickr. This is just crazy.

Look Digg is new. It’s novel. It’s revolutionary. They are going to have growing pains as they mature and they are going to need to figure things out as they go. Is transparency an issue here. Sure. And Kevin Rose says that they are going to address this. As far as I’m concerned that’s good enough for me.

It’s interesting to see the conspiracy theorists pop up everywhere when this thing gets attention saying things like “the original idea of Digg is dead. The apologists are out in force, but social-driven it ain’t.” Just because a small piece of Digg could use a little transparency doesn’t mean that you throw out the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

Flickr is a social network. Does censorship take place at Flickr? You bet your bottom dollar. Flickr has a “may offend” button that will take shots out of the public stream (giving them a similar fate to digg’s news stories that get pulled). If Flickr didn’t have this then Flickr would degenerate into one massive site built around porn. Does this mean that Flickr is not social-driven? Hardly. These types of controls are needed. They are important for the health of the communities. Porn, spam, hate. All of these need to be editorially dealt with even in a basically social driven news site.

Digg could use a little more transparency and they’ll get there. As for me, I’m going to keep digging as I always have. Digg is simply one of the best places to find great stories for a blogger today. I have several feeds set up that I routinely monitor and there’s nothing else out there that breaks quality news as fast.

I say digg on diggers, digg on!

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21 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    No offense… but once again, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and you’ve only got a part of the story.

  2. racketboy says:

    I was one of the ones banned, so its not just a thing with bots.

    The were censoring me. Its as simple as that. A Digg rep admitted it to me. I have the emails to prove it.

  3. Matt Burris says:

    You’ve only addressed part of the issue. While I agree that stories should be reported, and they should show why (glad that they will have a bin for that), however that isn’t the issue being brought up here. The main issue, that caused the issue that you addressed to come up, was accounts that were digging all in a row, and Kevin Rose’s account were amongst them, in the same spot both times.

    I think that’s the main issue most people are addressing here, however the damage control by both you and Kevin Rose’s blog post seems to conveniently ignore this. Why is that?

  4. Vinny says:

    Thomas,

    I don’t wanna be the one to break the news to you, but there’s a lot more wrong with digg than transparency, and there are a bunch of problems they have that if they don’t fix will end up rendering digg useless.

  5. Quadszilla says:

    You missed the two main points:

    1. The Digg Founders are spamming digg (and doing it poorly)
    2. Digg Censors dissenting opinions

    If you are going to be an apologists, at least apologize for the right stuff.

  6. Shawn says:

    Man, just look at the crazies come out. I agree, Thomas: this thing has been totally overblown.

    The issue here is that most people just don’t understand how Digg works. Everyone keeps pointing at the dig counts for submissions linking to Forever Geek and crying censorship because the stories never made it to the front page. It’s simple: the stories were probably buried by dig users who considered them unsuitable for the front page.

    Of course, we’ll never know unless Digg makes that information public. Stories should list users that buried them, and their reasons for doing so. It should also be possible for a story to be unburied. These are both features that Kevin has said will be addressed in the next version of Digg. Generally speaking, the more transparency the better. But that’s a fine line to walk, because the more they divulge about how the system both buries stories and selects them for the front page, the easier it will be for people to game the system. At some point users will just have to accept that a certain degree of administrative control is necessary to keep the site going.

    Now, I can’t speak to any of the claims of individual censorship. It’s too late to ask that anyone hold off on accusations of “power-hungry admins”, but I would suggest that they kindly STFU until they’ve reviewed their own activities within the context of Digg’s terms of service.

    @matt burris:
    The point you raised has been addressed. Diggs by the accounts in question were supposedly scripted (note that they’re in alphabetical order after “SpitF1re”), and Kevin had befriended one or more of them because he liked stories they’d submitted or dug in the past. Kevin does not show up in the same spot both times. In the second one, he comes after bribera, whose account has clearly not been terminated and we can therefore assume was not one of the fraudulent accounts.

    None of the other users after Kevin in either list have been banned. It follows that they dug the story because Kevin did. Kevin most likely shows up after the bots/frauds/whatever in both cases because they dug the story in rapid succession. In the future, Digg should display timestamps (for instance, in the “title” attribute of each link) for all of the digs so that behavior like this can be more easily spotted and reported.

    @quadszilla:
    1. You’re ill-informed. Haven’t you noticed that all Kevin needs to do to get a story on the front page is touch it? Check out his profile: 91 of 92 stories he’s submitted have made it to the front page. Almost every single story he’s dug has, too. Why would he need to covertly “spam” Digg? And for christ’s sake, give the guy some credit. If he were going to game the system himself, he’d do it a lot more cleverly than that.

    2. Digg censors spam. Live with it.

  7. therealdeal says:

    All this post does is explain how articles get buried. The author doesn’t adress people creating enteries that are critical of digg, just to see them delted. I wonder why that is?

  8. Anonymous says:

    What is more sinister is the banning of accounts and deletion (not burial)

  9. Dave Zatz says:

    It’s obvious to me that various people and sites abuse Digg to escalate their stories/authors or bury others. I recognize Digg is still a work in progress, but I imagine tweaking the various thresholds and criteria to promote or demote a story is something that can be implemented pretty quickly. What’s the hold up?

    Maybe Kevin Rose should give up his account and host a TV show or something. His popularity skews stories to the front in a form of defacto editorializing. I believe this is unintentional but it does shift story emphasis into ‘Digg with Kevin Rose’ rather than just ‘Digg.’ Of course, if a Steve Jobs created an account it would have the same effect… so perhaps that’s the nature of the beast unless we all use fabricated/anonymous screen names.

  10. Bender says:

    No offense either but there is something fishy going on there and deep down you know it. I’ve read your post there and even you were wondering why posted links would go away withh no reason.

  11. Thomas Hawk says:

    Bender, I seriously don’t think anything fishy is going on here. Look, users mod stories and they get pulled.

    In terms of promoting stories the points already been made that it would be stupid for Kevin to secretly create fake accounts and digg stories when he could openly digg stories and likely have the same effect.

    Is there censorship and do people get banned. Probably for violating the terms of service. If someone is cheating then they probably get bounced. You or I don’t know who was cheating and who wasn’t or how they were cheating or how they were not.

    And a certain amount of this needs to be secret otherwise as was mentioned people will game the system. If someone games the system enough I’m sure they’ll be banned. But for them to then cry censorship doesn’t make sense.

    And even if an occasional story had a problem for whatever reason 98% of digg still works great.

    I’m not convinced by the evidence and I don’t really see what’s in it for digg to try and alter stories secretly.

    Racketboy, it’s your word against theres. I’d like to see those emails that you say you have.

    Matt, I’m not ignorning anything. Kevin has a lot of people that follow his digg history. I follow his digg history. I digg stories by seeing what my friends digg all the time. Kevin’s one of the most popular people on digg. Of course his friends are going to digg the stories he does. Does a popular member on digg have more control over what gets promoted. Sure. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this. A lot of times the more popular diggers are popular for a reason and they have good taste in news.

  12. Bender says:

    Thomas I really value your opinion. I’m a big fan of your pictures and site. You’re the reason I found out about Diggs.

    The debate is not about Kevin creating fake accounts to get stories to the front but more about the system being “watched” and rigged by some “moderators.” Stories about Apple with less than 50 digs make it to the front page so often that I started to wonder why others with more than 100 never made it.

    We agree that the system needs some checking because if Digg is truely “user” controlled we can’t have shady stuff like that happening.

    Another post that also got me was this: http://www.aviransplace.com/index.php/archives/2006/03/26/digg-is-a-bully/

    Keep the good work coming :D

  13. Jeff Clavier says:

    I am not a big user of digg but the notion that stories critiquing Digg all get pulled, even if they are dugg tens, hundreds or thousands of times feels very wrong to me.

    The best way to stop these types of allegation is to address them upfront, and that story should have made the first page as the number of diggs allowed it to. This might demonstrate that it should be possible to “un-pull” a story that is alledgedly dug a large number of times.

    I have every reason to believe that Kevin and Jay are not gaming the system, but they should do everything to avoid even a remote appearance that they are/might be. And to that note, I don’t find Kevin’s response very convincing.

    But as you say, it’s new and we are all learning.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thomas, and most other people are totally missing the point. To me, and most others I have spoken to about this issue, its not about censorship, or conspiracies or anything like that. The issue here is, as I have said on various sites covering this, it integrity. Thats all it boils down to. Kevin Rose, the admins, and users of the site have interests they must uphold. Now, I expect users to uses this as a means to promote thier products or websites or propaganda or whatever. But its naive of people to believe that Kevin Rose and the people directly related to Digg arent articially promoting stories to the front page. Why? Well, you would be blind and frankly a moron not to see why Digg would do this. Now, I understand the people at Digg are out to make money, thats fine. But come clean about whats REALLY going on behind the scenes, and not a lame PR driven response that he made on him blog….I think thats the bottom line here, is intergrity……

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thomas, and most other people are totally missing the point. To me, and most others I have spoken to about this issue, its not about censorship, or conspiracies or anything like that. The issue here is, as I have said on various sites covering this, it integrity. Thats all it boils down to. Kevin Rose, the admins, and users of the site have interests they must uphold. Now, I expect users to uses this as a means to promote thier products or websites or propaganda or whatever. But its naive of people to believe that Kevin Rose and the people directly related to Digg arent articially promoting stories to the front page. Why? Well, you would be blind and frankly a moron not to see why Digg would do this. Now, I understand the people at Digg are out to make money, thats fine. But come clean about whats REALLY going on behind the scenes, and not a lame PR driven response that he made on him blog….I think thats the bottom line here, is intergrity……

  16. Bender says:

    @ Last Anonymous

    Yes, Digg seems mainly like an Apple PR department most of the times and you can’t help to wonder why all those silly Apple news always make it to the front page.

  17. Anonymous says:

    @bender: Why do those “silly apple stories” make it to the home page?

    Simple. There are a lot of Apple fans. People are interested in their products, so the stories about them get dugg and promoted to the home page.

    Honestly people. It’s a website. Who in fucks sake cares what is going on? Even if you conspiracy theories turn out to be true, what difference does it make? Is it right for them to censor. Of course not. Do I think they do? No. Would I stop visiting digg if there was proof that they did censor? No. That is because they have interesting tech stories to read about every single day, and as long as they keep me entertained, I could give a crap less what is posted there.

    If anyone here thinks that the supposed “corruption of digg” is a big deal, you really need to get a life. Look at CNN, MSN, Yahoo, etc. They all are biased in one way or another. Maybe you should be worried about the important news outlets being corrupted, instead of one big fanboy site where tech news is found.

    Bottom line: If you think digg is corrupted and that bothers you, stop visiting the page! Go to slashdot if that makes you happy, or one of the millions of tech blogs online. Digg is a great tech news site, but it is not the end-all news site for everything. There are plenty of other ways to get the news.

  18. deramo says:

    in a nutshell, here is why digg sux and what you can do about it now: http://allsux.com/2007/04/02/happy-tree-people/