At approx. midnight Eastern 2017-12-12, Jessica Ashooh (Director of Policy; u/arabscarab) shared the following blog post (2017-12-11) to reddit.com/r/blog.
Read the blog post before continuing. Several Redditors have shared their own insights and data on Reddit botting and astroturfing in the comments.
Not only did we find the activity to be an authentic, truly grassroots phenomenon, but it represented some of the most fervent organic activity we have ever seen on the front page in all of Reddit's twelve year history.
These campaigns were not organic. To understand a bit more about how Reddit is gamed, take a look at this video hosted on YouTube.
Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by a grassroots participant(s). It is a practice intended to give the statements or organizations credibility by withholding information about the source's financial connection. The term astroturfing is derived from AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to resemble natural grass, as a play on the word "grassroots." The implication behind the use of the term is that instead of a "true" or "natural" grassroots effort behind the activity in question, there is a "fake" or "artificial" appearance of support.
Now, let's take a look at the data Reddit has shared.
Unfortunately, we get few specifics and little context. No y-axis labeling and a very small window of data over time. This makes it impossible to put this data into historical perspective, which is essential for detecting network anomalies.
That's okay, we have our own. Since April 2017, our AI has been analyzing Reddit data. Let's take a look at Reddit network behavior in the context of domain performance by post score over time.
Here are the most popular domains since April 2017.
- unknown — parse error
Not surprising, media hosts dominate the network in terms of post score.
The following chart visualizes this domain performance over time. Reddit's image host i.redd.it is the top performer, with i.imgur.com trailing and every other domain far lower. Note the rise for i.redd.it during the 'This is my representative...' campaign.
Disclosure — red segments represent periods of development or systems failure. We are currently unable to afford separate dev and prod instances. Please consider a donation.
Performance for i.redd.it during this short period was ~2.3x the norm.
Next, let's filter out everything but i.redd.it
Given the nature of political astroturfing on Reddit, the results are unsuprising. What is suprising, however, is the performane of battleforthenet.com
In a very short period of time, battleforthenet.com shot to the top, even beating Reddit's image host. Note how low everything else is by comparison.
Next, we filtered data that is associated with 'net neutrality', 'fcc' and 'ajit pai'.
Ars Technica (2nd place) is owned by Conde Nast, which is owned by holding company, Advanced Publications.
Reddit used to be owned by Conde Nast, but in 2011 it was moved out from under Conde Nast to Advance Publications, which is Conde Nast's parent company. Then in 2012, Reddit was spun out into a re-incorporated independent entity with its own board and control of its own finances, hiring a new CEO and bringing back co-founder Alexis Ohanian to serve on the board. Reddit has 3 sets of shareholders: The largest shareholder is still Advance Publications. The second-largest set of shareholders are Reddit employees. In the spin-out that occurred in early 2012, Advance voluntarily reduced its sole ownership to that of a partial owner in order to put ownership in the hands of current and future employees. The third and smallest fraction consists of a set of angel investors.
We then filtered to battleforthenet.com — you may notice that on ~2017-07-12/13, performance is very unatural at this scale and range.
These 'organic' campaigns are a new kind of deceptive ad (i.e. propoganda) that came to prominence over the 2016 election, a technique first utilized by r/The_Donald — an extrememly popular community that was severly punished by Reddit over the practice, via special handling of stickies.
Welcome to the future of the Internet, with or without net neutrality.
Bookmark ftm.neocities.org and stay tuned for part 2 as we share more data and continue to explore the disingenuous nature of corporate-driven social media activism.