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The secret world of Reddit spammers

Does spamming really hurt the social news site?


Kevin Morris

Internet Culture

Posted on Apr 6, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 6:53 pm CDT

It took Reddit staff a little more than a month to ban SolInvictus and slaterhearst after they were called as spammers by redditors in late January.

SolInvictus, it turned out, was Ian Miles Cheong, a paid social media consultant for international news site GlobalPost. Slaterhearst, as I reported earlier this week, was actually The Atlantic’s social media editor Jared Keller, who spammed Reddit with thousands of links to Atlantic Media sites over the course of a year and likely brought millions of new visitors to the company.

(Interestingly, cah75, another account that frequently linked to Atlantic stories, was also banned recently).

Reddit’s democratic system makes it easy for spammers like this to justify what they’re doing: Submissions are only successful once they hit that critical mass upvotes. So long as there isn’t any vote-rigging going on, are these spammers really hurting Reddit?

Reddit’s general manager Erik Martin, in fact, suggested to me that Reddit takes vote-rigging far more seriously than traditional spam-by-volume people like Keller. So then why ban Keller and Cheong, and why have such a strict policy about self-promotion in the first place? It’s possible the two were involved in vote-rigging. There’s absolutely zero evidence to prove this, however, and Reddit generally refuses to speak on individual bans, so as not to tip off other spammers to new tricks.

There is a real problem with spam-by-volume submitters, however. Submitting so many links easily pushes out the competition. When an online news editor like Keller has such an active Reddit account, he has another leg up on the competition. He doesn’t need to wait for a random redditor to find his company’s story first. He posts it himself, making it that much easier for The Atlantic to break news on Reddit.

That may do more harm than good in the long run, according to Martin.

“We’ve seen that publishers actually do better when their content is submitted organically by Reddit users,” Martin told me earlier this week. “You can really damage the brand, even if you’re not going to the extreme of vote manipulation.The author is never going to be as good at finding the right way to find a way to frame a submissions as the crowd.”

Whither The Redditor? The unofficial Reddit magazine shocked their readers on April 1, with the announcement the much-loved, user-run project would be shutting down. Most (quite reasonably) believed it was all an April Fools’ joke. It wasn’t. There is some hope for the project, however. While editor Ryan Laing  and designer Jack Howard are out, for now, the third member of the team isn’t quite ready to give up.

“This is not the end of The Redditor,” Blair Drager wrote on Monday. “I’m taking some time to get re-organized, find several graphic designers … and others to assist. I want this to continue because it’s a great idea.”

In other news, Reddit traveled through time, redditors lashed out against  the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), and the secrets of banana odor were revealed.

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*First Published: Apr 6, 2012, 2:00 pm CDT