Thursday, April 12, 2018

Reddit has banned 944 accounts linked to the IRA Russian troll farm

While much of the tech media has had their eyeballs glued to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimonies to Congress over the past couple of days, another social media giant has been discussing Russian election interference.

Yesterday, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman published the team’s annual transparency report. Generally, the focus of this report has been to keep Redditors apprised of the current state of requests and approvals by governments and law enforcement for the preservation or production of user data. This year, the announcement was framed a bit differently, as Huffman also took the opportunity to deliver some updates on Russian attempts to infiltrate the platform.

Huffman stated that the company had identified 944 “suspicious” accounts believed to be linked to the Internet Research Agency. These accounts made more than 14,000 posts on the site according to Huffman. He said that “few” of these accounts appeared to have a “visible impact on the site.”

Perhaps more importantly, he revealed that none of the accounts had placed advertisements on Reddit, nor had the company’s investigations found any election-related ads, unlike activity from the IRA on other platforms like Facebook. It’s worth noting that compared to other platforms infiltrated by the Russian troll farm, Reddit’s ad product is very much in its infancy. It only recently began rolling out native ads in its mobile app, for instance.

Huffman noted the specific karma rating scores of the accounts, indicating that the vast majority of the suspicious accounts had received little to no engagement from users:

  • 70 percent (662) had zero karma
  • 1 percent (8) had negative karma
  • 22 percent (203) had 1-999 karma
  • 6 percent (58) had 1,000-9,999 karma
  • 1 percent (13) had a karma score of 10,000+

Interestingly, the site has preserved all of the activity from these accounts for users to peruse. After quick examinations of some of the more successful accounts, it seems as though the IRA had a difficult time cracking into Reddit’s communities. Most of the more successful posts seemed unrelated to political subversion and were more focused on building up karma to increase the visibility and reputation of the accounts. Still, some of the most popular posts focused on the relationship between African-Americans and law enforcement while others focused on negative news stories surrounding Hillary Clinton. The most-posted to subreddit from these accounts was not r/The_Donald, but was, in fact, r/funny, one of the site’s most popular subreddits focused on humor.

Huffman says that most of the active accounts were caught and banned previous to the 2016 election. A big part of this is that as opposed to a site like Twitter, where users have to be reported to the company itself, Reddit users can be banned by moderators, which are unpaid community managers of individual subreddits.