Reddit Has A Fake News Problem Too With Front Page Hits Easily Bought And Paid For
Reddit is the 24th most popular website in the world and ranks 7th in the United States. It uses a system of upvotes and downvotes to regulate content and fend off erosion from the inside—posts that are deemed newsworthy, authentic, or otherwise worth looking at receive upvotes by registered users, while the bad or undesirable content gets voted down and quickly buried beneath the plethora of good content.
It's an simple and seeming effective system, except that apparently it is easily gamed with some Bitcoin and some strategic contacts. To prove, Forbes contributing writer Jay McGregor and his colleague Phil Harper made up a pair of stories and got each one promoted on two popular and influential subreddits, /r/UnitedKingom and /r/Video. The stories reached the top and second to top spots.
McGregor and Harper used fake accounts and fake upvotes that they bought for less that $200. It took just a few hours of their time, part of which was spent searching for websites that offer fake accounts and finding someone selling thousands of upvotes. Their first attempt at such led them to a website called Reddit Secrets, but the idea of handing over cash to a faceless site didn't appeal to them, so they moved on.
The two had better luck browsing Facebook. They struck up a conversation with a man named who they refer to as "Mike" (not his real name).
"He quickly became our fixer for high quality 'seasoned' Reddit accounts, costing between $10 and $150 each depending on their age and karma," McGregor says.
After paying Mike a small deposit using Bitcoin, they received a list of accounts they could buy. By the next day, McGregor says they had access to hundreds of accounts, which the duo used to post "politically questionable content without arousing suspicion." They could even fake a conversation with themselves, though that would entail hiding IP addresses through TOR or proxies.
As to the matter of upvotes, getting ones by human posters in Pakistan would come at a cost of $40 for more than 200 upvotes if going through Mike. They needed thousands. On top of that, Mike was not willing to sell downvotes, a practice he found to be immoral, and would often disappear for hours and even days at a time. That made him difficult to work with.
McGregor and Harper received a tip from a friend about a source in New Zealand. The source turned out to be a teenager who had developed a program capable of delivering thousands of upvotes or downvotes on a whim. His program automatically logs in and out of thousands of purchased accounts from thousands of IP addressed doled out by his system to avoid detection. They used his program to successfully promote fake articles.
Some of the initial comments to one of the fake articles picked up on the bad grammar. No problem, the duo just pummeled those comments with automated downvotes. Before long, their fake article was on the front page of a subreddit. They were even more successful in promoting a second fake article.
It's quite the fascinating story, and also disheartening. Bottom line? Take everything your read online with a grain of sale.