Digging Your Own Grave: Selective Censorship and Social Media

I was reading this article about internet censorship in Russia by government trolls thinking, “Gee that sounds like a social media site I know”. When is censorship on social media acceptable? Is tampering with voting results ever acceptable?

Recently, one of my readers submitted an article of mine to Digg. As a result, the story not only got buried but the reader got his account deleted.

My article wasn’t the only one buried. In fact, all stories critical of Digg or pointing to recent troubles are getting summarily buried. Some people are even starting to make unsubstantiated claims that Digg’s very own staff are behind this. One thing obvious is that Digg’s staff have no intentions of reigning in this behavior.

Taking a laissez faire approach to user actions may be a necessary part of survival for a social media site but obviously any actions of consequence (such as deleting an user or banning a site) requires administrative oversight. It’s obvious from the recent cases that Digg is exercising a form of selective censorship that is hurting their credibility.

One of the main problems with Digg’s form of censorship is that the staff seem to be on the side of Digg’s very own trolls and the infamous bury brigade. The question is, do they ever objectively review sites that fall into disfavor with their users?

It wouldn’t be much of a problem except for the fact that getting banned from Digg can have big consequences considering how even sites like TechCrunch still gets a large chunk of traffic from Digg. Now, supposing Digg banned TechCrunch it wouldn’t go away just like John Chow still manages to make $3000+ a month even after getting banned. However, for a small blog struggling to get noticed and breaking Digg’s unspoken rule to “never submit your site (especially too many times)” will find themselves struggling ever more with obscurity.

Why is this wrong? Consider the Digg story “Yahoo Shamelessly Rips Off Digg and Brags About It” for a minute (disclosure: this is my submission). This was an extremely popular story and collected close to 4500 diggs. As a result Digg’s users flooded Yahoo’s official blog with nasty comments and even vandalized Yahoo! suggestion boards. Digg staff can’t claim that they didn’t see it with its popularity on the front page and the firestorm of debate within the blogosphere that followed. Digg could have easily pulled a “marked as inaccurate” or simply bury the story knowing that leaving it on the front page would cause Digg users to take drastic measures. Instead, Digg did nothing to quell the controversy or speak out. Even a “yeah, the design looks similar but leave them alone” from a member of the staff or Kevin Rose himself would surely calm down the die hard fan boys.

Censorship like this rarely works on the internet, at least outside of China. If you want to control what people say about a web application, you’ll have to limit access to your corporate LAN. If anything, Digg’s recent actions and willingness to censor contending opinions is only making the din louder.