Like any community, Reddit has its dark sides. It has neighborhoods rife with porn, racism, misogyny, and violence.
And it’s also got gangs.
Often referred to as downvote squads, these groups of users usually build up around shared ideologies. They launch attacks from their home subreddits—the topically themed sections of the social news site where they meet likeminded types and organize. Then they jump around the site and downvote en masse posts or comments with which they disagree.
While the downvote issue has been recognized as a problem for a while, it bubbled to the surface again Monday. According to Donna_Juanita, users of the r/mensrights subreddit have been launching vote sqauds against the r/feminisms subreddit, a forum she moderates.
Donna_Juanita used the small but influential r/ideasfortheadmins subreddit—the site’s public suggestion box—to voice her complaints. In particular, she pointed to this post, where r/feminisms regulars were voted down into oblivion after they were singled out on the r/mensrights subreddit.
Because posts with high vote totals drift to the top on Reddit, these kind of mass voting attacks essentially render opposing voices silent to the larger community.
Downvote squads are nothing new on the Internet. Social bookmarking site Digg was famous for having similar squads, as AlterNet reported last year.
And other sections on Reddit, such as r/libertarian, are famous within Reddit for launching such attacks (see examples here, here, and here).
In comments on Donna_Juanita’s post, other moderators troubled by downvote squads struggled to think of a solution.
Some suggested a subreddit treaty system, where ideologically opposed subreddits make a pact to never launch vote squads. Others suggested giving moderators more power -- especially to lock threads -- while still others argued that an algorithmic adjustment would be best, something that could negate patterns of internal voting.
We reached out to doug3465, a moderator for r/funny, one of the largest subreddits on the site, about the problem.
“It's admin territory,” he wrote. “Many people argue that mods should have more access to stuff like that, but for now, there's not much we can do or see.”
So what are the admins doing about it?
The Daily Dot asked Reddit general manager Erik Martin for comment, but he didn’t elaborate much on the specifics.
“We have constantly evolving countermeasures,” Martin wrote in a message to the Daily Dot. “We take that type of cheating very seriously.”
And as for the discussion in r/ideasfortheadmins, the moderators there never reached much of a consensus.
So for the time being, victims of downvote squads will just have to suffer the seemingly random attacks of their ideological foes.
Watch out: It’s war in gangland.