Deseret Digital Media Company recently called on its more than a thousand freelance contributors to try to manipulate Reddit.com, a social news website, to promote a Deseret News article.
“Could you send this out to your D.C. army?” asks Chris Lee, director of
DeseretNews.com in a recent e-mail to Matthew Sanders (pictured),
director of Deseret Connect. The request he forwarded, which City Weekly obtained from a Deseret Connect contributor, asked that Deseret Connect contributors promote on Reddit a recent story in the Deseret News about a local homeless man who discovered earlier this month that he had inherited a large sum of money from a relative.
Reddit.com allows users who sign up to promote linked content by votes. Links that receive lots of votes can easily go viral. It’s also a Website that strictly considers attempts at coordinated, mass group-voting on a story to be “cheating,” and as abuses of their Website.
In response, Sanders passed the marching orders along to his “army” of contributors in a message titled: “Newsflash: Can We Influence Reddit?” In January, Sanders told City Weekly that this "army" consisted of over 600 Deseret Connect contributors, but the organization's current Website puts that number now at over 1,000.
"Dear DC contributors, There are several news services that have had an impact on our readership lately. One is called Reddit. The head of DeseretNews.com is asking for our help to see if we can move the dial. Please see his message below and lend a hand if you can. Best, Matt"
The attached message from Chris Lee, manager of DeseretNews.com, encouraged promoting the story because “The story has the makings of a social media hit. I posted it on Reddit and want you all to promote it.”
Sanders says there was nothing sinister in encouraging his contributors to promote the story.
“It was obviously taken out of context,” Sanders writes via e-mail of the correspondence.
“It was an effort to get the word out about a heartfelt desire to help a homeless man, not an infiltration, as spun by unfriendly parties,” he writes.
Pushing a story to make it viral is not by any means illegal; however, in Reddit’s own guidelines it is considered “cheating.” According to the Website’s guidelines under the subject of “What Constitutes Cheating” the site reads: “Besides spam, the other big no-no is to try to manipulate voting by any means‚ AI, manual, mechanical, or otherwise.”
The guidelines go on to warn that “voting cliques” who coordinate group voting on submitted links are considered to be “cheating” the system. “Cheating will result in your account being banned. Don’t do it,” warns the site.