OnGamers was banned from the entirety of Reddit yesterday due to being systematically identified as spammers, defined by Reddit administration and algorithms. The blog’s entire domain was banned from being submitted for link posts as well as members of its staff shadowbanned, which removes public visibility of contributions made by the accounts unless a moderator approves it. 1
Immediately, the staff of the website started making the case that they weren’t spammers and that they would be appealing the decision made by the Reddit administrators. Damage control like this is fine. It’s expected when you’ve basically been accused of being a spammer. As a journalist, you try to clear your name because it affects your credibility.
This is the damage control that I mean:
Unfortunately we have a temp problem with Reddit that we are looking to resolve. In the mean time I'm unable to post/help others on /r/Dota2
— Matthew Bailey (@Cyborgmatt) April 9, 2014
Just a heads up friends, unfortunately ongamers has a temp problem with Reddit that we are working on resolving.
— Travis Gafford (@SotLTravis) April 9, 2014
Reddit ban is a site issue, I'm just banned by association. I've an incredible submission ratio and don't engage in voting rings
— Duncan Shields (@Thooorin) April 10, 2014
I have posted in the SC2, Dota 2, and LoL subreddits regarding our site ban. Working with Reddit admins to resolve, please no pitchforks.
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) April 10, 2014
That all seems well and good. It’s the right message to send out. It’s a temporary problem with Reddit. Reddit is a weird place, right? Surely the application of a little bit of misdirection with some little white lies and the whole thing will blow over before the weekend.
At this point, everything that happens happens behind the closed doors of Reddit administration. Anyone can speculate that CBSi is attempting to get Reddit to overturn its blogspam ban, and that’s probably happening, but the last absolute facts that we’ll ever receive about this situation were published by r/starcraft moderator CandyManCan. The takeaway from the post is the following blurb:
The reasons behind the ban are unknown, but these types of bans have only ever been issued for vote manipulation of reddit.
But what exactly counts as vote manipulation? Here’s how the Reddit FAQ page describes vote manipulation:
Besides spam, the other big no-no is to try to manipulate voting by any means: manual, mechanical, or otherwise. We’re not going to post an exhaustive list of forbidden tactics (lest we give people ideas), but some major ones are:
- Don’t use shill or multiple accounts, voting services, or any other software to increase votes for submissions
- Don’t ask other users to vote on certain posts, either on reddit itself or anywhere else (through Twitter, Facebook, IM programs, IRC, etc.)
- Don’t be part of a “voting clique” or “vote ring”
A voting clique is a group of people who send links to their submissions around via message, IM, or any other means, with the expectation of “you guys vote for my stuff and I’ll vote for yours.” A “vote ring” is a group of people who agree to vote on certain things together, either a specific submission, a user, a domain, or anything like that. Upvote each submission or content for the value of the information in it, a variety of things that you think are interesting and will benefit the community.
Let’s theory craft a bit.
Let’s stipulate that the above rules could be applied to an entity and anyone associated with that entity in the same way that the guidelines above apply to an individual user. With that consideration, the actions of certain OnGamers staff could have very well tipped off Reddit’s vote manipulation detectors. The scripts don’t take into consideration that Slasher has a six-year-old account that’s been active—the only thing that matters is what tips off the indicators.
While there is plenty of folks rushing to the defense of the OnGamers staff being indiscriminately banned, there is this pseudo-acknowledgment spreading around that surely they’re breaking the self-promotion rules. 2 They must be doing something that Reddit feels should be stopped when so much of their publicly scannable traffic comes from there. 3
XavierMendel, a moderator for r/games, commented on the fine line between spamming and promoting (emphasis added): 4
Howdy! Domain bans are largely for vote manipulation, but that’s not the case here. This ban was almost certainly handed out not due to the votes on the content (though it could’ve happened), but due to the scale of the organization and efficiency by which the domain was submitted by a small group of people.
People always point to Slasher to say that we’re two-faced with the self promotion rules, and from their point of view they’re right. However, knowing the situation and knowing that he’s making an effort to get a better ratio (and doing so; his ratio has dropped from ~86% to under 30% in the past couple months), you can see that he’s not a spammer.
I have little doubt when it comes to him and the domain getting unbanned, however, I have major doubt that it won’t end there. Some accounts banned by this wave were at a 100% ratio over a long period of time. 100% isn’t an anomaly, it isn’t something you can shake off or fix too easily.
I don’t know what the admins are thinking right now, but I doubt whatever they’re thinking will please everyone. And honestly, that’s the way it should be.
While acknowledging that the statements he makes about the causes of the entire action are not fact, I’m going to assume that a moderator of r/games has a little bit of experience with exactly this scenario.
What can OnGamers do at this point, though? The damage has been done and while it seems that there might be a chance that these bans could be rescinded, what’s to say that we’ll be having this conversation all over again in a few weeks or months? If not about OnGamers, perhaps another esports personality?
A lesson to be learned, here: don’t post your own content to Reddit. Just don’t. Please. No. Don’t do it because of the self-promotion rules if you don’t agree with them, but because your content gains a little bit of legitimacy every time it’s shared by someone else. That’s the best thing about other people sharing your content–and it’s always been that way.
However, if you absolutely must promote your corporately subsidized news site on Reddit, why not give advertising a shot?