This Popular New Subreddit Seems Like a Shilling Operation for Anti-Trumpers

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By William Hicks | 11:18 pm, May 2, 2017

In the week following Donald Trump’s inauguration a number of specifically anti-Trump subreddits popped up on the site. Very quickly, a number of these communities started consistently hosting posts that reached the front page of Reddit.

One of these communities, /r/MarchAgainstTrump, currently has about 44,000 subscribers and consistently upvotes posts to the front page of Reddit once or twice a day. This means they are able to get at least one anti-Trump news story or meme in front of the eyes of millions of Redditors browsing the “all section.”

The top posts are usually “shitposts,” low quality bait like “Be a shame if r/all got reminded Donald Trump lost the popular vote” or articles about some malfeasance in the Trump administration.

As the fourth-most visited site in the USA, Reddit is an incredibly effective way to get a message out.

But when looking deeper into MarchAgainstTrump, the community does not appear to be organic. The subreddit often has one or two posts a day that get highly upvoted and reach the front page, while the rest of the posts are hardly touched at all with almost no upvotes or comments.

The subreddit even got a post to the front page when it was only a few days old with only 1,600 members.

 

One Reddit user, /u/ggggnut, looked into the top 100 most upvoted submissions on MarchAgainstTrump and found 22 of them were from suspended accounts, 10 from shadowbanned accounts, 13 from the subreddit’s moderators and 39 from what the user concluded were active bots. Ggggnut determined active bots by looking at post histories and seeing if users were posting content on schedules not common for normal humans.

Another Reddit user, /u/GregariousWolf, tracked a post on MarchAgainstTrump that made it to the front page by looking at the number of active users online and comparing it to the number of points the post had. He found that as the post increased in points, more users came to the subreddit to upvote at an even rate. Most unusually, the rate of increase of both the active users and the number of points was almost linear. This kind of smoothness in the data could be evidence of automation.

 

Another post rose to the front page in a similarly linear fashion.

 

 

Compare this to the rise of a post in /r/pics which has a far more bumpy climb to the top.

 

 

Even the founder of MarchAgainstTrump, /u/hazardnipt, is sketchy as hell. He was suspended by Reddit, and the new moderator team has only been running the subreddit for a month. Many of their accounts are only a few months old. Redditors customarily distrust new accounts because they could be corporate shills or alternate accounts for existing users, used for nefarious purposes.

Hazardnipt would routinely try and shill another subreddit, /r/me_atm. There’s a good deal of circumstantial evidence that Hazardnipt was the alternate account of /u/DeletedFor, the head mod of me_atm. DeletedFor was known for using bots to spam mentions of me_atm on other subreddits in order to gain exposure and build the community. 

Both accounts, DeletedFor and Hazardnipt, were suspended around the same time. DeletedFor was even accused of attempting to bribe the moderators of another subreddit to promote me_atm.

It’s actually incredibly easy to manipulate Reddit and pay for posts to get to the front page. Journalists at Point were able to get a factually inaccurate article they wrote on Medium to Reddit’s frontpage for only $200. Various companies will sell you upvotes for a price, delivered by an army of individual accounts they have on supply. In a followup video they even found the existence of professional shills, longtime Reddit users who are paid to argue in the comment section on behalf of companies to dispel damaging rumors or even spread them.

During the election, David Brock’s Super PAC Correct the Record announced they would pay people to argue on behalf of Hillary Clinton on social media sites including Reddit. Since the announcement of Correct the Record, Reddit users, especially those on the right, have been hyper-vigilant about shills and plants.

The evidence is not entirely conclusive as to whether MarchAgainstTrump is a “shill operation” or getting their posts heavily boosted through bots. There is a large organic backlash against Trump on Reddit, which has always been left leaning, spread across dozens of subreddits.

And the subreddit itself is not necessarily the issue either. It could just be outside forces using it as a vector for manipulation. But the behavior MarchAgainstTrump is extremely odd, and should make Redditors wary.

If a subreddit could be compromised to spew an anti-Trump message, what other more sinister causes could be shilled out of popular subreddits?

Follow me on Twitter @William__Hicks

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