After sifting through reams of data, a Digg user is asking whether a bunch of dummy accounts on the news aggregation site have been promoting pages from its publication partners. The revelations come just a day after the firm announced that it was cutting the workforce by 37%, and six months after the not-so-successful relaunch of the site. And, unsurprisingly, the post, on the tumblr page of LtGenPanda, has made it to the front page of Digg.
The story, in a nutshell, is this. Ten days ago, the Digg user, LtGenPanda, was astonished by a post on Digg's blog trumpeting some tweaks to the algorithm. He started fiddling around with the site's API, and discovered that the algorithm changes had led to new domains being featured on the Top Stories page. Normal, you think.
However, when he started to check out the most prolific diggers for that period, he noticed a slew of suspicious usernames—159 of them in total—such as d2 thru' 16, dd 2 thru 9, and so on, diggerz5 thru 40. The letters a and s were also used with numbers after them.
LtGenPanda then went through the usernames' profiles. All were similar, inasmuch as they had none or next to no followers, never commented, merely dugg what LtGenPanda calls a "very select set of stories." The domains pertaining to the sites, such as the Huffington Post, the BBC website, the Guardian website, BoingBoing, WashingtonPost.com, Gawker, Reuters, Kottke, Breitbart and zdnet.com, for example, were no stranger to Digg's front page. They all, however, have one thing in common: they are Digg publishing partners (which include Fast Company).
LtGenPanda contacted Digg yesterday night, reports TechCrunch, one of Digg's publishing partners, at 5.33pm CST, with a link to his tumblr blog, and asking for a comment within half an hour. The last bout of activity from any of the suspect accounts occurred at 5.31pm CST. Digg replied, saying this:
"That is a lot of information to assess in such a short period of time. Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to get back to you with a comment within 30 minutes."
An hour later, LtGenPanda put his findings in depth up on tumblr, with this comment.
"Clearly the above facts point the finger at Digg with no one else as a suspect. However, there is no concrete evidence to say that Digg is 100% responsible, so I will only write to say that Digg is the one and only prime suspect here. This also coordinates well with their urge in getting Diggable ads out... well, Digg, we just realised that most stories in the "Top News" are ads, thanks!
We contacted Digg with some questions. Who are the new users with the strikingly similar names? Who owns them? How long has this been happening? Why did Digg blog about tweaking the algorithm earlier this month? At time of publication, however, Digg had not replied (in fact, their feedback email is not even working).
There is no evidence at all that the publishing partners are aware of what has been happening on the site. However, it is odd that Digg's own monitoring system did not notice the activity on the suspicious accounts. These revelations are serious for Digg as the success of the site is built on the trust of Digg's users, which must be in short supply right now.
Any new developments and we'll keep you posted.