Reddit has caused some surprise by announcing bans on Business Week, Phys.org, The Atlantic and more. Some Redditors are happy that evildoers are punished, some are not so sure, but this news shouldn't come as a surprise. Reddit has been banning sites and users for a very long time - just not admitting it.
Reddit has the same problem all crowd-sourced aggregators have - cheating the system. The problem is that Reddit controls large flows of page views. If a site gets an article listed on Reddit, even if it isn't hugely popular, the result is a boost in page views. The fact that in terms of a revenue stream the page views are of low quality - Redditors spend only a very short time on a page, most don't even read more than the headline and final paragraph and they have a moral objection to seeing, let alone clicking on any advertising, even though advertising is what fuels most of the "free" material on the web.
Even though a Reddit view stream is of very little use in terms of revenue, or even long term visitor generation, it is still desirable because it pushes up traffic stats, which is a good sales pitch to potential advertisers.
As a result, people "cheat" to get Reddit traffic - or do they?
Understanding the rules of the game
It depends what you think the objective of the "game" is and what exactly is "cheating".
Reddit and other crowd-sourced aggregators have abandoned an editor-gatekeeper model in favour of the wisdom of the crowd. Article links are posted and voted on. Enough votes and the link is promoted to a more favourable position and so gets more reads.
In place of editors, Reddit has moderators who don't edit - they basically are there to make sure that rules are enforced and things run smoothly. Now this is where things go wrong.
While Reddit's policy doesn't prohibit users posting material they have a vested interest in, or if it does I can't find it, it does ban users who "self promote". The ban is not an open one and user who are banned often don't know that they are. Their posts simply go into the either never to be seen by anyone but the original poster. This is a mean trick and not worthy of any organization let alone the supposedly freewheeling Reddit.
Yes submit a link - but only if you are not connected to it in any way no matter how interesting it is.
The idea that self promotion is somehow evil is allowed to persist because of the ideal that there are users who just love to trawl through lots of content and share the gems that they find. In practice, most readers simply don't share and the few that do are motivated by a desire to garner points, social badges or whatever. The simple fact is that people who post need to be rewarded in some way or other, and why not with traffic to their own articles if the crowd so deems it. There is nothing inherently wrong with self promotion. The alternative is to wait like a wallflower at a dance until some schmuck helps you out for probably all the wrong reasons.
Not only have users been banned but entire websites by URL have been banned for self-promotion and self- voting. Once a site is banned nothing appears when a user posts a link. The whole system seems to be automatic and implemented as a regular sweep of the system to remove banned URLs.
The thing that is remarkable about this whole system of rule enforcement is that it is all completely cryptic and undercover. If a government was discovered doing something like this then the walls would fall. When I've asked Redditors what they think, the answers have usually been of the "kill the spam" sort. They don't seem to mind that they are working in a community that is heavily censored for whatever reason and that what they see as link listings depends on whether or not they themselves are banned.
There are lots of posts that do get through that are clearly in need of moderator "attention" in that they are in the wrong Reddit, don't meet the rules of a subReddit, or are simply adverts and such posts probably do deserve to be eliminated This isn't the same thing that Reddit has been, and is currently, doing.
Now Reddit has, for reasons that are unclear, decided to come a little bit clean. A new subReddit r/BannedDomains now announces domains that have been banned for being:
"spammy, malicious, or involved in cheating shenanigans"
What might come as a surprise is that many of the currently banned sites are what you might consider to be quality outlets for articles that Redditors might want to read. Indeed many of them have posted comments about now having to go off to the banned websites rather than getting their fix via Reddit.
The statement of the ban
Some people have also commented that Reddit has just created a weapon of page view warfare. All you need to do to knock out the opposition is to post lots of links to their material to Reddit and arrange for it to be upvoted and the result is, not that you are punished, but they are banned. The real situation is that this isn't a new weapon. Only now it has become obvious.
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