Recently a conservative blog called Little Green Footballs voiced their displeasure with Digg’s “mob rule”, claiming that they are falling victim to left-wing diggers. If you set aside the partisan politics, there is actually a lot to learn from the situation surrounding this particular site on Digg. It brings to light some common misconceptions about Digg as well as problems that need solving.
Political news is unlike other types on social bookmarking sites. People vote for different reasons than they do on, say, Sports news. Often people vote and bury things based on agendas, rather than the quality of the content.
One of LGF’s main gripes is that their content is buried within minutes of being promoted to the front page. They conclude that it is “leftist totalitarianism” at work on Digg. I doubt it is that simple. The antics of the bury brigade are well known, and not isolated to politics. Apple fanboys frequently bury stories that shine a positive light on Microsoft. Nintendo fanboys do the same to Sony stories. I’m sure the bury brigade is playing a part in LGF’s plight to some extent. Furthermore, lots of stories are removed from the front page after promotion for perfectly legitimate reasons (i.e. enough Digg users decide that something promoted wasn’t appropriate for the front page). It is akin to a newspaper printing a retraction: embarrassing but necessary for the integrity of the community. Certainly greater transparency could shed some light on this. However, I wouldn’t rule out that many users are offended by LGF’s practices on Digg.
LGF’s practices on Digg have not been all smiles and sunshine. In the past, Charles Johnson, the owner of the blog has rallied his readers to establish a “beachhead” on Digg to counteract the perceived liberal bias. All the while peppering pejoratives like “moonbat” throughout the content directed at Digg users. Meanwhile, their site does not allow open discussion. Registration is required to comment. And opportunities to register are rare. Digg users are known to rail against closed systems. After all, they came to participate.
There are a couple of things wrong with this “beachhead” strategy. The first is really simple: declaring that a community is enemy territory while you’re attempting to join and participate in it is like going to a dinner party and kicking everyone in the shins. You aren’t going to make a lot of friends that way. It also creates an unnecessary separation between them and the Digg community.
The second thing that is wrong with this approach is the element of social activism. Injecting yourself into a social news community for the sake of pushing an agenda takes attention away from the key ingredient of social news: the content. It shifts the focus to the users. And this changes the environment from a collaborative effort into a competitive popularity contest.
A common misconception: social news sites are the ideal venue for social activism. In fact they are not because they focus on content, not causes. Just ask the 9/11 truth movement how well they’ve done on Netscape. Just like LGF, 9/11 “truthers” (people who do not believe the “official” explanation of the attacks of September 11, 2001) rallied on blogs in an attempt to gain a presence on Netscape. The only problem was that they didn’t care about the quality of the content that they contributed. They were merely interested in discussion of their ideas. So they constantly re-submitted the same content just to keep the discussion going. This would be more appropriate on a forum than a social news site. Or perhaps this kind of activity suggests the need for a whole new type of social activism site.
As recently as 2 days ago – just 1 day after the “mob rule” complaint – LGF called on readers to get a blog flagged as offensive by Google because of the author’s activities on Digg. What was offensive about the blog, you ask? They dared to be critical of LGF and question why Digg users would vote up LGF content. The irony of such a call coming 1 day after complaining about “mob rule” on Digg is thick enough to take a bite out of. Fortunately, Blogger’s “Flag” button can’t be taken advantage of by angry mobs.
Another common misconception: Digg is supposed to be non-partisan. Digg (the site) is not capable of being partisan. The site alone has no way of distinguishing political bias. Any bias that occurs at Digg is the result of the cumulative bias of its users. There is a constant ebb and flow of bias as the seasons change and as the user base grows. A year from now we could be reading articles about how Digg is too conservative.
It is clear that LGF and many of their readers want very much to participate on Digg. And by all means, they should take part. The more people participate in social news, the more relevant it is to everyone. I would recommend that they lay off the name-calling and stop obsessing over their site’s standing on Digg though. Approach Digg not as a competition but as a collaboration. Produce good content. And always keep in mind: one person’s mob rule is another’s wisdom of the crowd.
Derek van Vliet is a Toronto, Ontario native who has been programming for most of his life. In the last year he has been active in social news. He is currently a top 10-ranked user on Digg where he goes by the name BloodJunkie. He is also a professional social bookmarker (aka Navigator) on Netscape, where he goes by the name Neophile. Check his blog at http://neothoughts.com.