Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Digg-ing a legal hole for itself

Today, I watched an incident unfold that was enough to convince me that Digg is a legal minefield waiting to happen.

In short, a ridiculous rumour was posted to a gaming website, subsequently dugg, and went ballistic, clocking up more than 800 diggs at the time of writing it, and being one-of-the-top ten stories of the day. The rumour said that Gamepro Australia had accepted a bribe to write a negative review of a game. It was based on a single post submitted at competing gaming site Gamespot.com.au.

I can’t imagine any professional journalist for a moment even entertaining the idea of accepting a bribe to write a negative review, nor could I for a moment accept that the world’s biggest gaming company would engage in such dodgy PR practices. The whole story was so obviously inaccurate, but apparently not so much, that hundreds of people promoted the story to near-the-top of Digg.

The GWN story is libellous and IDG Australia and the editors and journalists in question would have a very good case if they chose to sue.

I actually sent them a few questions, asking if they were prepared to stand by the story, if it was legally challenged and the story was finally shellacked on Digg and what do you know, within a couple of hours, the “allegation” was removed.

Update: We’re happy to report that the person who started the bribe rumor on the Gamespot forums has admitted it was a lie, so we’ve removed mention of the rumor from this story. Their rumor post has also now been removed at Gamespot, and mention of it on the Gas Powered Games forum has also gone,” says the post on GWN.

In most legal cases, you kind of have to show that damage was done to make it worth suing, which means you’d very seldom bother to sue a forum or blog, because they’re traffic is relatively small. But Digg is getting to the point where its traffic and influence is such, that its not going to be hard to prove that a post like this caused enomous commercial damage.

Were I a lawyer representing Gamepro, it would be very easy to demonstrate that these hundreds of people all believed the post enough to promote it. Comments posted to the site like: “The people at GamePro are the real assholes here, we all know EA has somewhat of a shady way of doing business so I’m not that surprised that they would attempt something like this. But GamePro how about a little journalistic integrity”

The story also propagated around other gaming sites, forums and blogs. Again, it wouldn’t be at all difficult to start doing some calculations, work out how many people saw the post because of Digg, start doing some simple legal calculations about damage done to brand and reputation, and come up with a very big number, as to

Whenever, I’ve been asked about this type of episode, I’ve always suggested that most social media is self-correcting – that is, an inaccurate story will eventually get ferreted out as inaccurate. However, that really doesn’t take into account the damage that gets along the way. The fact that so many people dugg the story, after a large number of people expressed doubts about its validity show that far from everyone bothers to read the comments, and an even smaller fraction of those people would bother to return to the comments or see the re-vised original piece.

I’m actually really disappointed in the Digg community that they let a story that was so flagrantly dubious reach the point it did. I would have expected that it would have quickly beaten down by the senior members of the community. And the large number of buries that the story got, didn’t really seem to do much to fix the problem either.

In fact, the post is still sitting there and it still has the libellous and inaccurate heading and text. It’s kind of ironic that while all the posts that it references have been removed or edited, the Digg post remains. It’s still sitting at number three in the top gaming posts of the last 24 hours with the headline: “GamePro Magazine caught in review score bribery scandal”.

In essence, Digg has been informed that the post is inaccurate (and I’m led to believe contacted directly as well) but the post hasn’t been removed. This is obviously the first action that any publisher would take and when you get down to it, Digg is a publisher, its just using its users rather than journalists to post stories. At some point, a site like Digg is going to be held to the same standards as a MSM outlet and, it remains to be seen, if it can put in place the moderating measures to avoid these types of problems.

Or perhaps, its just need to re-look at its algorithms and take into greater account the buries that a story receives. I’m not sure if this thing could have happened at reddit, because stories tend to get beaten down a lot more at that aggregator when compared to Digg.

I’m certainly no lawyer, but as an editor and journalist who has done all the basic media law training, it does seem to me, that at some point in time, Digg is going to run into a case like this, except it’s going to be about the wrong person or the wrong company, and somebody is going to decide to make a point.

Disclosure: Seven or so years ago I used to work for IDG Australia, the publisher of GamePro Australia and as the CEO of MediaConnect Australia I am a passionate support of the Australian tech media community.

Filed under: Content Aggregation, Digg.com

Do you look like your aggregator?

You know how they say pets tend to look like their owners. Well, after playing around with content aggregators over the last few days, it’s become strikingly obvious to me that the content aggregators share the same types of personalities as their users.

The explosion of traffic this site has seen over the last three of four days that has seen us maintain our lofty WordPress ranking has been entirely down to referrals from aggregators. So I’ve had the opportunity to watch the kinds of traffic that these aggregators send through as well as watching the way certain stories climb or fall.

It’s been fascinating.

Let’s start with memeorandum. How does memeorandum work. It’s based on links from authorative sources. So if you’re not in the club, you don’t get a guernsey no matter how intelligent or smart your post is. There’s no ability to submit an article. You need to depend on being noticed and linked to by someone in the club. Now, let’s look at the type of bloggers who dominate memorandum. It’s the tech elite. Your Scoble’s, Arrington’s, Malik’s, etc. So you’ve got elite bloggers, whose sense of eliteness is being reaffirmed by an elitest aggregator.

It’s not surprising then that memeorandum sends through the least traffic of the three aggregators I’ve mentioned. But you get really good traffic. Bloggers who are going to take your post and critique, expand, pontificate. The only unfortunate aspect to memeorandum is that unless you’re one of the posts get broken out as a lead story the traffic it sends through is almost non-existent. So the conversation aspect of memeorandum isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Some one would say exactly the same about his corner of the blogosphere.

Now let’s look at Digg. Digg is all about power to the people. To get a story up the ladder at Digg, the comrades need to vote it up. There’s no elite, here. Every one has the ability to Digg. No Digg is worth more than any other Digg. And who is your average Digger. Your open-source loving, technology-is-democratizing the world, techie geek. Any body, any story can make it to the top of Digg if the people say so.

But Digg’s ranking system encourages herd mentality. The more popular it becomes, the higher up the list it gets, the more Diggs it gets, the higher up the list it goes and so on. Digg traffic is all or nothing. If you dont’ get a start, Digg sends through just a trickle of traffic. Make it onto the front page, though, and Digg’s easily the more influential aggregator around as you can see by watching the WordPress rankings of those WordPress.com blogs that make it to the front.

Next up, we’ve got Reddit. Reddit’s slightly more sophisticated than Digg, in terms of the way it ranks traffic. Not only can you promote something up the batting order you can also critique it. So where a sensationalist post has the potential to rocket up the Digg charts because of the number of Digg’s, on Reddit, it’s just as likely to struggle because people are going to vote it down. Similiarly, the type of stories that do well on Reddit, are a little more high-brow than what you get at Digg. More world news and politics, tech blog posts that make it need to be very well argued.

Reddit will get you a pretty reasonable traffic flow, even if you don’t get onto the front page. There appears to be far more people lurking around the back pages looking for good stuff and Reddit readers are more inclined to check you out than Digg readers.

So while all primarily have a tech-oriented audience, there are three very distinct groups served by each. In fact, you can say these groups are analagous to our society. memeorandum is for the crusty, upper class. Digg is for the greater populus and Reddit is for the middle class.

What all this tells me is that there probably won’t be one aggregator that rules this space. Because even though you can create different communities around a particular voting style, the more important nature of an aggregator is that the ranking methodology has to fit with the personality of the community.

So in fact, I wonder if Digg, memeorandum, Reddit will scale beyong the communities they own now. Gabe Rivera has already said memeorandum has limitations because his community interacts very differently to how the rest of the blogosphere works. How well with the Digg, Reddit systems work outside of the tech arena. Techies like to be involved with technology, so they like an interactive ranking system. Will a teenage girl, a mother-of-three, a grandfather engage with a site the same way?

Make Squash Squishy: Digg this story

Filed under: Content Aggregation, Digg.com, memeorandum, reddit

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