#Fakecomments: A Reddit scandal

Companies pay money for people posing as genuine users to promote their work or shift public opinion. Huh, ya think you know a site...

February 27, 2017

Reddit, the 22nd most popular website on the planet (and 7th most popular in the US), is being manipulated by large corporations. And this isn’t just a theory — we have proof. Or rather, Forbes has proof.

We’re all familiar with comment manipulation, right? Fake Amazon reviews (which we wrote about) are perhaps the best-known example. Well, the same sketchy behavior is happening on Reddit as well.

Sorry, did we say behavior? We meant business.

The business of internet “shilling” is quite simple — companies pay money for people posing as genuine users to promote their work or shift public opinion.

As one anonymous agency specializing in this stuff said, “[We] work with a number of accounts on Reddit that we can use to change the conversation. And make it a bit more positive.”

It’s almost like there’s this whole underground world we don’t know about. But thanks to Forbes, we recently got a look behind the curtain.

Gotta shill to pay the bills

Jay McGregor, a contributor to the site, began researching the business of internet shilling in December when — for journalistic purposes — he paid $200 to get fake news stories to the top of “influential subreddits” via fake accounts and fake upvotes.

What he hadn’t realized, though, was how widespread — and booming — the internet shilling business had become.

In fact, there are now professional marketing agencies in multiple countries that openly offer these services under the title of “reputation management.”

So Jay developed a back story and reached out to a few shillers

Here’s what he discovered and heard directly from them (all quotes from an anonymous agency):

  • It feels professional. Most agencies offered McGregor their services by the month. For instance, one charged around $1300/month for “unlimited conversation and vote manipulation.”
  • They have unique relationships with users. “Work on Reddit is very sensitive, and requires hiring of Reddit users with aged accounts who have good standing in the community, [and] we do have a few existing users on staff.”
  • Like a real agency, each client gets a custom campaign. “For each campaign, we create a custom roadmap and staff it accordingly, as unless the comments come from authentic users with an active standing in the community… they will immediately be called out. Our success at shifting the conversation depends heavily on who we find and vet for the process.”
  • Some past clientele/work: “In the past year [we’ve] worked for a major entertainment network to magnify a rumor within sports entertainment, as well as damage control on a rumor that came out of an actor being hired on a film before the production company was ready to announce that casting.”

Huh, ya think you know a site…

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