When it comes to examples of “social media,” Digg.com is right up there with del.icio.us and Flickr as the standard-bearer for “user-influenced content,” or whatever you want to call it — and the story of Kevin Rose and the development of Digg.com is a great startup tale as well. Which is probably why there is such a stink being raised about suggestions that the service is somehow rigging which stories get “dugg” or promoted to the front page of the website — and also censoring anyone who tries to post an article about the affair.
The accusations started with ForeverGeek.com, which mentioned that two stories posted to the front page of Digg were “dugg” by the same people — and not just a few of the same people, which wouldn’t be that hard to imagine. The first 16 diggs were all by the exact same people, and in the exact same order, and Kevin Rose was one of them — the 17th, as it turns out. When several readers tried to post the article from ForeverGeek.com to Digg, they were banned and the link was removed. According to them, the site said it violated the terms of the user agreement at Digg, which bans articles that allege misbehaviour by other Digg users.
That’s ForeverGeek’s side of the story. According to Digg.com, however, its URL has been banned because it has been “spamming” Digg with its own stories and trying to get them on to the front page. Kevin Rose posted a response of sorts to the Digg blog, in which he said ForeverGeek violated the terms of service. He also responded obliquely to the comments about him digging the stories in question, saying he diggs stories all the time — but no response to the point about the first 16 diggs all being from the same people. Kent Newsome says this is part of what he doesn’t like about the “news by contest” format.
There are two issues here, it seems to me: one is the suggestion that Digg (like other social media sites) is susceptible to being influenced by a small group or clique of insiders. That one is difficult to prove, although the screenshots from ForeverGeek are suspicious, and it’s probably not all that surprising (Update: the site has posted a response to Kevin’s response here). The other issue is whether Digg.com should be banning people who post stories that are critical of other Digg users — as it did with the ForeverGeek stories, and has done with others. These are issues that have also been raised in the past at Slashdot, as several posters have mentioned.
It seems to me that even a “social media” network like Digg or Slashdot.org needs to have rules, and if it decides to ban certain spammers or block overly-critical articles and comments, then perhaps that is part of the tradeoff for having a civilized atmosphere rather than total anarchy. But Digg — and others — need to realize that a large part of what drives their services forward with users is trust, and once that trust is lost it is very difficult to regain. That war is one that traditional media fight each and every day.