A report posted Thursday by online progressive news magazine AlterNet has detailed a year-long "undercover operation" at infiltrating a group of conservative Digg.com super users called the "Digg Patriots," who use their collective voting power to control what stories get onto Digg's front page.
AlterNet's report details tactics used by the 100-some members of the user group, who allegedly communicate through a Yahoo Groups site, and have done so since early 2009.
Its members cull both Digg's front page and its upcoming section to find what they consider liberal or otherwise anticonservative stories. They then send out group messages to its members to use the social news site's bury option to make sure those stories stay off the front page, or get them out of sight if they're already there, according to AlterNet. Screenshots of bury assignment e-mails taken during the investigation indicate that the group's efforts were highly successful.
Digg's front page can drive a good deal of traffic to sites, which is why it makes for such an tantalizing target. Over the years the company has adjusted its algorithm, a closely guarded company secret that is the determining factor for promoting a story from the site's user-submitted upcoming section, to the front page. This takes into account a number of things, including how fast the votes are coming in, where they're coming from, who voted, and how many friends those users have.
Digg declined to talk to CNET about how it changes its algorithm, or how group voting activity is tracked over time to combat efforts similar to those by the Digg Patriots.
AlterNet's report is keen to note that the Digg Patriots' efforts were no small feat. Many of the group's members had to go to great lengths to make sure their accounts were not banned or deactivated, including resetting their modems in an effort to get a new IP address, and setting up and maintaining multiple, active accounts so as not to get picked up by some of the site's activity filters.
As AlterNet notes, the upcoming version of Digg, which CNET took a look at in July, gets rid of the bury feature altogether, something that could put an end to these practices. The company is also planning to allow voting by unregistered users, as well as putting the focus on the personalized news page instead of the main front page, which AlterNet's report says has been the main target of this group.
Update at 2:38 p.m. PDT: Digg's founder and CEO Kevin Rose says of the methods detailed in AlterNet's report (via Twitter): "It's hard to defend against, we are always tweaking algorithms and are launching a new one with new.digg.com in a couple weeks." An earlier tweet had Rose saying that the company is in the midst of an investigation.