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Internet Censorship – A Digg “Bury Brigade” Case Study

The problem with censorship is ...Wikipedia defines censorship as “the removal and/or withholding of information from the public by a controlling group or body.” When I think of censorship, images of the communist governments of the old Soviet Bloc and goose stepping Nazis come to mind. But of course, the attempts of “controlling groups” to silence “dangerous” ideas and erase “offensive” speech from the public record are abundant in our “liberal” society as well.

Perhaps no demographic is so repulsed by the impulse to censor than the internet community. It is thus ironic that there is perhaps no medium more targeted for censorship than the internet. It seems that every week some politician or organization is calling for bans, filters, and bureaucratic oversight of the net. Usually, the aim is to “protect the children.” Who can argue with that? (The previous question is asked with copious amounts of sarcasm.) … we would have internet brigades roaming the net using intimidation and disinformation to bully those who dare to utter “dangerous” ideas …I have to believe that if the control freaks that wish to censor the net had their way, soon our country would be swarming with 30,000+ internet police like in China. Soon we would have internet brigades roaming the net using intimidation and disinformation to bully those who dare to utter “dangerous” ideas in a public forum. Oh wait, this already happens; perhaps you have heard of Bury Brigades?

For those who haven’t, a Bury Brigade is a band of brigands that roams Digg.com leaving malicious (even vitriolic) comments and using Digg’s bury feature to eliminate submissions that express opinions they are philosophically opposed to. The bury feature that these brigands abuse was created to allow the Digg swarm to bury submissions that are spam, not to allow users to bury legitimate posts that they disagree with. If a story gets a sufficient number of buries, it is deleted from Digg’s upcoming stories. If this happens, the only way to find a buried story is to use an appropriate search string and check a little box that instructs the search to include “buried stories.” In short, buried stories are essentially invisible.

Some say the Bury Brigades are just myth. I say I have proof of foul play. Below is a case study involving Digg submissions having to do with the Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. I’m not sure why a Bury Brigade would form to censor everything related to Ron Paul on Digg.com. But, as you will see, the evidence of such activity is overwhelming. The data below was collected between 12:42 pm and 12:59 pm on September 03, 2007.

Case Study – Ron Paul

How do we go about detecting a Ron Paul Bury Brigade operating on Digg.com? Well, I think it is pretty simple. First do a search for Ron Paul-related submissions using the search string “Ron Paul.” Then repeat the search checking the box that instructs Digg to include buried stories. Compare the number of results pages returned by the first search to the number returned by the second search and calculate the percentage of Ron Paul related stories that are buried. Finally, compare this percentage to those calculated for other prominent presidential candidates, which serve as a control. One can conclude that a bury brigade is annihilating Ron Paul stories if the percent of Ron Paul related stories buried is larger than that of other candidates. Here is what I found when performing this analysis.

Search String Number of Results Pages Including Buried Stories % Buried
Ron Paul (R) 105 697 85%
Mitt Romney (R) 97 120 19%
Rudy Giuliani (R) 96 133 28%
Hillary Clinton (D) 248 289 14%
Barack Obama (D) 203 238 15%

Holy crap, the margin between Ron Paul’s percent buried and that of other candidates is tremendous. In my estimation, this is pretty damning evidence of a Ron Paul Bury Brigade. But wait, it gets worse. If you notice, the Republican candidates (not including Paul) have a slightly higher buried percentage then the Democrats. I hypothesized that this was because some of the stories mentioning Romney or Giuliani also mentioned Ron Paul and where thus buried because of it (e.g., stories discussing debates where all three candidates participated). To control for this, I performed searches for both Ron Paul and Mitt Romney or both Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani. Here are the results.

Search String Number of Results Pages Number Including Buried Stories % Buried
Mitt Romney “and” Ron Paul 4 15 73%
Rudy Giuliani “and” Ron Paul 5 24 79%

Notice the spike in the percent buried when Ron Paul is included in these searches. Subtracting these results from the previous results for Mitt and Rudy alone, I arrive at results for stories that mention Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani but not Ron Paul.

Search String Number of Results Pages Number Including Buried Stories % Buried
Mitt Romney “not” Ron Paul 93 105 11%
Rudy Giuliani “not” Ron Paul 91 109 17%

As you can see, the buried percentage of the other Republicans is much closer to that of the Democrats after controlling for stories that mention Rudy or Mitt in addition to Ron Paul.

Conclusions

In light of these results, I believe that a Bury Brigade is actively trying to silence all stories dealing with Ron Paul on Digg. The questions now becomes 1) are there other Brigades, 2) who are the members of these Brigades and 3) what motivates them? I conjecture that the answer to the first question is yes (others have found them).The frightening alternative … is that these individuals are paid agents of censorship, financed by some group lurking in the background. The answers to the second and third questions are most likely intertwined and difficult to ascertain than the proof of the Ron Paul Bury Brigade’s activity given above. The data presented here leads me to hypothesize that it is unlikely that the Ron Paul Bury Brigade is just a group of individual Ron Paul haters who have banned together and have nothing better to do with their time. If this were true, why has no similar group sprouted to censor any other candidate. Hillary Clinton, for example, is arguably more divisive and polarizing than Paul (and more widely known than Paul), yet her buried percentage is quite low. The frightening alternative (and the reason I am writing this piece) is that these individuals are paid agents of censorship, financed by some group lurking in the background. Considering that they use the same tactics of intimidation and hate mongering that the state-sponsored internet brigades of China and Russia employ, this possibility should send shivers down your spine. In light of Paul’s staunch anti-war platform, could the puppet master be our government itself? If I get nabbed by men in black suits then this is probably true. My next post may be published from Guantanamo Bay.

Call To Action

  • 1) The Bury Brigade members need to get a life and take a class in what it means to be a member of a tolerant liberal democracy.
  • 2) Digg should change their service to eliminate flaws with the bury feature. One solution would be to update their algorithms so that submissions get reinstated if they get dugg after being buried, a situation likely to happen only if the submission is not spam.
  • 3) Those that think the Ron Paul Bury Brigade’s activity is repugnant should do all that they can to find ways to thwart such attempts. If they are in fact being paid for their “services”, we should try to expose the parties involved. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” – Thomas Jefferson.

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