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Censorship, Digg, and the diggbar

credit: 3dogmedia.com

This is a pretty long article, ladies and gents. I hope I’ve made it skimmable enough for you to get the idea of what this is all about. It’s incredibly meta… and it might at first seem pointless to care about at all. I mean, it’s just a site, right? I just find it incredibly disturbing that they advertise the site as being completely user-controlled, yet, as you’ll see, there are censorship tactics that the admins use that are very sneaky (and clever, mind you). I absolutely hate the term ‘social media’, but I’ve been around it for a few years. I grew up on digg. I’ve seen every story that has ever been on the front page of digg. Seen all the townhalls, and 90% of the diggnations. I really just don’t have anything better to do with my time :P Anyways, there is quite a bit of information in this article, and a lot that you likely don’t know yet. p.s. the above graphic doesn’t represent my pure hatred for digg itself, or saying that you should leave. I say we stay and fight for our right… to party! But, in all seriousness, the shit the admins do under our noses is pretty scary at times. And remember that they’ve got about 71 employees.

TL;DR: digg has a lot of tools to censor you. Censoring stories is often done in the secrecy behind the promotional algorithm, and how they don’t tell you how many buries a story has (and by who). I also point out a promise Kevin Rose gave two years ago that he didn’t keep, which would have taken away a lot of the censorship secrecy. For censoring comments, they often do the censoring themselves and give you a notification that users reported you (I have decent evidence to prove this). Basically, for both stories and comments, they try to tell you that it’s other users who are censoring you, rather than the admins themselves. I also give some of the facts about the new diggbar (Digg’s evil little moneymaker).

Censorship. We hear about it often; we demonize it when it happens. So far, there hasn’t been much of a backlash when it comes to censorship on Digg.com, and that is really troubling.

I have seen a handfull of users getting flamed over their opinions of the diggbar, so my purpose here is to lay down some facts, some speculation, and some opinon.

Here is a common response to criticism of the digg bar, on the site itself:

"I, like many other Diggers, like the Digg Bar. If you don’t then turn it off and quit complaining. You do know that you can turn it off in the settings, right?"

Let’s break it down.

  1. "I, like many other Diggers, like the Digg Bar." There certainly are many users who enjoy the features provided by the tool. This is very true. Lots of users love it. As I mention in the next point, there are also some users who are opposed to it. Fine. That’s not a big deal. However, what you’ve got to realize is that this diggbar isn’t confined to just digg users. I cannot count the number of links I’ve been given in the past week, through facebook, twitter, et al. that contain a diggbar at the top. No matter how many users on Digg enjoy the bar itself (consider 100% support), there is still the rest of the web that gets to suffer, if they don’t get any benefits from the tool (besides perhaps three comments in the bar. But Digg isn’t particularly known for having great comments).
  2. "If you don’t then turn it off and quit complaining. You do know that you can turn it off in the settings, right?" Note that all most of these links that are being diluted throughout the rest of the web are being viewed by people who are not digg users. They do not have an option to “go into the settings” and turn it off. Sure, you can turn it off from the bar itself, but that just loads a cookie. It’s like constantly getting hit by a shovel, and being told “maybe you should wear a helmet.” Perhaps a better idea would be to tell the guy to stop hitting you in the head with a shovel.

Some other social media sites have similar toolbars. The difference is that they are often opt-in rather than opt-out, and they don’t play around with these evil little tricks that I’ll get to in a moment…

These digg links are spreading all over the net. Here is a fantastic article that points out how the digg admins are lying when they say that the diggbar doesn’t take away Google Page Rank from content providers.

The DiggBar is an incredibly clever framejacking tool disguised as a URL shortening service. The mass adoption of the DiggBar by the thousands of users who constantly distribute un-digg-worthy content through our most feared competitor, will allow us to generate millions of additional revenue dollars by injecting our ads in between our feared competitor and the destination url.”

And then there is this gem:

Before the DiggBar, (and with legit shortening services) all those links would point to your url. Now, a large percentage of them are going to be links pointing to a page on Digg. Now if you are Yahoo, CNN, or the BBC, that isn’t really going to matter much. You don’t have to spend time thinking about building link equity, because you already have it. However, if you are a newer site struggling to build trusted link equity in the current black hole environment we live in, the mass adoption of the DiggBar is a serious issue.

John Gruber, from Daring Fireball had this to say:

[Loading a page in a frame, with a toolbar], of course, is total bullshit.

All sorts of sites tried this sort of trickery back in the mid-’90s when Netscape Navigator 2.0 added support for the <frameset> tag. It did not take long for a broad consensus to develop that framing someone else’s site was wrong. URLs are the building block of the Web. They tell the user where they are. They give you something to bookmark to go back or to share with others.

The DiggBar breaks that, and I’ve seen no argument that makes it any more sense to support this than it does to support 1996-style <frameset> site embedding.

So, shortly after it was announced, I wrote code to block [the diggbar] from Daring Fireball. If you attempt to view most pages on DF through the DiggBar, you’ll be greeted with a special message just for Digg instead of the regular content of the page.

The diggbar doesn’t render sites properly in safari or other webkit browsers, and takes up valuable screen real estate (try it on a low-res monitor/netbook). It is also categorized as a browser hijacker. Gruber mentions that some sites just javascript as a frame killer. He provides the php code on the page to kill the diggbar, and

It’s really no surprise that “[Digg has] seen a 20% lift in unique visitors.” That’s just from clicks on other sites. Of course that’s going to happen. Face it, the digg admins are scared that the operating costs of the site were getting too high, and the current economic situation was looking frightening, so they needed to punch the internet in the face with a network of references to their site. Digg is trying to become the youtube of social media. Oh god.

"When you call it ‘framing someone else’s site,’ everyone agrees it’s bullshit," said John Gruber, writer of DaringFireball, on his Twitter. "When you call it ‘The DiggBar,’ it’s Web 3.5 Awesome.”

-Wired

Censorship

Digg has transformed from an idea into a business. The diggbar is a tool for making enormous profit. So, it might not come as a surprise that criticism of the tool has been censored on digg itself.

The above Daring Fireball site was submitted, got promoted, yet didn’t make it to the front page. It currently has 2666 diggs. People started getting suspicious when it was at the top of upcoming, with a few hundred diggs. At the point where it was obvious that it hadn’t made the front page, and links to it were spread around to it, a rep was sent in from the digg offices for damage control. Here is one of her responses:

justjeninsfjustjeninsf

Hey all -

Yes, this story was buried yesterday when it had a much lower Digg count. As always, once a story is buried, even if it gains traction, it won’t hit the homepage. Some background on the algo: there is no specific threshold of Diggs or buries required to promote or bury something. The algo takes many factors into consideration, from the number of Diggs and reports a story receives to its topic and the diversity of user actions. Any questions? Check out the FAQ at http://digg.com/faq/ or feel free to contact us via http://digg.com/contact/

—Jen

plimpton777plimpton777

"As always, once a story is buried, even if it gains traction, it won’t hit the homepage."
I did not know that. Very interesting.

justjeninsfjustjeninsf

Hey plimpton777 -

It’s true - once the community buries a story it can’t be resurrected regardless of how many subsequent Diggs it gets.

—Jen

Many of us have heard about what happend with the AAS Encryption Key Controversy/Incident. On 1 May 2007, in response to a DMCA demand letter, technology news site Digg began closing accounts and removing posts containing or alluding to the key. The Digg community reacted by creating a flood of posts containing the key, many using creative ways of semi-directly or indirectly inserting the number, such as in song or images (either representing the digits pictorially or directly representing bytes from the key as colors) or on merchandise.At one point, Digg’s “entire homepage was covered with links to the HD-DVD code or anti-Digg references.” It was the largest internet riot I’ve ever seen.

You’d think the admin’s learned their lesson about censorship then. Two years ago. Remember, without digg users, digg would not exist. If the users get pissed off enough, the admins have to do something about it.

Then there was a post on 10/14/2007 about digg censoring stories that criticized GoDaddy (who sponsors Revision3), the company that handles the diggnation podcast. Here is a part of Kevin Rose’s response:

"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. Soon, 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.”

That was almost two years ago. The recent response above from justjeninsf indicates that this feature that Kevin Rose talks about was never implemented. Amazing to see how many other changes they’ve made to the site in the mean time, though. They have 71 employees. Keep that in mind.

Why wouldn’t they implement such a simple feature? Why was it never talked about again? And why don’t they let us see how many buries a story gets? Well, to put it simply, the promotion algorithm is digg’s censorship scapegoat. The digg admins want you to think that all of the gears that power the site are powered by users. That the site is completely user-driven. As the site’s ‘about’ section states, “You won’t find editors at Digg — we’re here to provide a place where people can collectively determine the value of content.” It is promoted as a fully democratic site. The absolute best, and easiest way to censor criticism on the site is to blame the users themselves. The childish “it wasn’t me” response. I think the following response to justjeninsf best describes the situation:

tinustinus

Can someone please translate Jen’s ***** into normal English? Thanks.

mrASSMANmrASSMAN

Story gets submitted, staff members collectively bury moments later which triggers flaw in algo, submission no longer eligible for front page no matter how many diggs are received, staff blames users.

What’s great is that I’ve got proof of them blaming users for admin censorship. I caught them red-handed. A series of comments that I made, trying to spread information about all this censorship, got censored. A notification that I had been silenced appeared, stating that “other users” had reported me, yet a third-party statistics tool that runs off the API told me that users had not, in fact, reported these comments. Clever little way of censoring. (note: screenshots taken after both pages loaded in parallel, simultaneously).

You really would have thought that the admins learned their lesson about censorship after the AAS Encryption Key revolt. There are so many things that stink about this whole situation, that this information definitely needs to be heard by a large group of people. Will this info ever get heard by the digg community? Not if people like you don’t care.

If this reaches the front page of digg and doesn’t get buried; gets thousands of diggs, I’m sure the admins will point out flaws in the logic above. Perhaps something about how “another one of your comments was reported, that isn’t shown in that screenshot” or that “a report was sent by email” or that they “didn’t have the time to implement the bury-bin” or that they “just plain forgot” or that they “really aren’t stealing pagerank. trust us, we checked!” or some other bullshit. Hell, they’ll probably change the diggbar, too, so that more people are satisfied. They’ll probably just make it opt-in only. Whatever they change to it, almost all the information in this post will still apply. Don’t fall for their games. They’ve been adding glamorous features left and right on the site for years, which distract users from the real fundamental problems of the site (seriously, the shout system still exists after the first week it was put in? It forces thousands of regular users to spam other regular users. I, half-jokingly, think the Geneva Convention should have a clause against that). There must have been a point in 2006 where Kevin Rose decided that he wanted to turn the site into the next youtube, and has been making chess moves towards that goal ever since.

If all else fails, there is concrete proof that Kevin Rose said we’d get a bury-bin, where we could revive buried stories… and it was never implemented. If they claim that the promotion algorithm isn’t as scapegoat to censorship, then I’m sure it would be easy to add teh bury-bin feature! There should be no problem with it at all! Eventually, critical opinion will actually reach the frontpage.

But I’m sure the admins would rather continue to convert users into sheeple. Take away their ability to freely speak and criticise. And you know what is most frightening about that? The fact that they advertise the site as being democratic, and powered by the users. Digg: Fair and Balanced. Remind you of anyone?

Share this with as many people as you can. I don’t get ad revenue. At all. I have hardly any digg friends. I hate ‘shouting’. I hate getting flamed for putting this information in the comments. Get this shit dugg to the front page so we can see how the admins respond to truth.

Post Script: I don’t intend on editing this post.


ok, I lied. Forgot to mention one thing: part of this new diggbar service is a URL shortening. Notice that Kevin Rose doesn’t even use it himself: http://www.twitter.com/kevinrose