Gaming sites game Reddit, get caught

Three popular gaming sites have been caught trying, and in many cases successfully gaming social news site Reddit using power users to submit, vote, and comment on their content.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
Reddit's gaming subreddit, where the efforts took place. CNET

A trio of gaming sites has been caught getting users to vote stories into popularity on social-news site Reddit.

The effort, which had been run by a Reddit user called "MasterOfHyrule," made use of multiple accounts to submit, vote, and comment on stories from gaming sites GamePro, G4TV, and GamrFeed. Those stories would then have a greater chance at making it to the front page of the site's gaming subcategory and possibly onto the front page of the site where even more traffic could be had.

After being called out in a post by Reddit user Deimorz earlier today, all three have since issued apologies to the Reddit community owning up to the efforts. The legitimacy of G4's has been verified, however GamePro and GamrFeed's have not. CNET has reached out to both companies for independent confirmation.

In its statement, G4 said that the company had originally found a Digg power user who also had other social networking accounts, including one on Reddit. G4 had traded games, then later money to this individual in return for them submitting stories to the social-news site.

"However, we didn't know the full extent of how he was achieving success on Reddit," the company wrote. "We had no idea that he had 20 accounts under his control. We also didn't know that he was using the other accounts to comment on his own submissions. That's on us 100 percent, we should have paid more attention to his methods."

Based on data pulled up by Deimorz, the first of the companies to begin the practice was GamePro nearly a year ago, with G4TV following three months later. Deimorz pegs GamrFeed to be the most recent, beginning four months ago. Out of that data, there is no determination of how many stories were affected, though user MasterOfHyrule was said to be "by far the worst" with "hundreds of submissions," according to Deimorz' data.

Gaming the system on social-news sites is nothing new though presents a particularly challenging problem to site owners. The site's growth has made it an increasingly lucrative target to sites that want to get a boost in traffic once stories are elevated to a promoted status. Reddit rival Digg faced similar challenges several years ago while trying to cope with an influx of users and groups that attempted to game its voting system. The company responded by changing its algorithm to penalize group voting, thereby encouraging stories to be voted on by a more diverse group of users before getting promoted.

The site's spam filter can catch about 97 percent of submitted posts that are determined to be spammy, though the company is not able to go into specifics on its methods for fear of helping spammers bypass it, according to Erik Martin, Reddit's community manager.

"This is a little different because some of these sites have content," Martin told CNET. "It's not quite the same as someone who puts up a crappy infographic with a bunch of back links to their furniture site. These are Web sites that are publishing content."

"Usually the other thing that helps is that our users smell it," Martin explained. "But it's harder to smell it in gaming. I hope nobody in gaming gets offended by that. It's just much easier to smell it in other Reddits. Gaming has articles about commercial products with reviews, leaks of screenshots, conversations with marketing people and developers."

"What constitutes spam in the gaming Reddit is not the same as the cognitive psychology Reddit," Martin continued.

Martin says the Reddit team still has to go through some of the data collected by Deimorz and its own filters to determine what to do next, though he made it clear that just because the sites in question are big media companies, Reddit won't pull any punches on taking action.

"If they have broken the rules, they'll be treated just like a mom and pop operation," Martin said.