Activists or Mob? The First Digg Riots

This morning I came into work, I ran some SEO checks on a few sites and started up FireFox. As usual I browsed speculatively towards Digg for my hit of the overnight news that just wouldn’t be covered in the Metro newspaper I’d browsed through on the bus.

At first I couldn’t work out exactly what had happened. The following code was written everywhere :


Through my sleepy haze I realised it was the code for unlocking HD-DVD protection that I’d seen a couple of times on stories the previous day. It transpires that Digg were actively deleting the stories featuring this seemingly unthreatening code in response to a cease and desist letter.

Jay Adelson (Digg’s CEO) wrote on his blog at 1pm May 1st:

“This has all come up in the past 24 hours, mostly connected to the HD-DVD hack that has been circulating online, having been posted to Digg as well as numerous other popular news and information websites. We’ve been notified by the owners of this intellectual property that they believe the posting of the encryption key infringes their intellectual property rights. In order to respect these rights and to comply with the law, we have removed postings of the key that have been brought to our attention.”

Normally this would have been the end of the matter, but this is Digg after all which, “is all about user powered content. Everything is submitted and voted on by the Digg community.”

Digg users went on to no less than a full out cyber riot.

Activists or Mob? The First Digg Riots

The community flooded Digg with stories containing the code, making it virtually impossible for the moderating staff to keep up with deleting all the stories – or that’s how it would appear to the mass of the Digg userbase. As a search engineer though, I know how simple it would have been to remove any story containing the code, variations of the code, links to pages with the code on and so on. Very few would have been able to get through if any if Digg was really intent on making sure they wouldn’t have a legal battle to fight.

As I’ve stated, Digg is no standard news website though and offending the userbase would be a poor marketing choice because they are responsible for the revenue by clicking on and viewing the adverts. With Digg’s users so fiercely protective of this story it would seem like the only choice.

Just eight hours after Jay’s post, the founder of Digg and the main public figure for the company, Kevin Rose, posted this:

“Today was an insane day. And as the founder of Digg, I just wanted to post my thoughts…

In building and shaping the site I’ve always tried to stay as hands on as possible. We’ve always given site moderation (digging/burying) power to the community. Occasionally we step in to remove stories that violate our terms of use (eg. linking to pornography, illegal downloads, racial hate sites, etc.). So today was a difficult day for us. We had to decide whether to remove stories containing a single code based on a cease and desist declaration. We had to make a call, and in our desire to avoid a scenario where Digg would be interrupted or shut down, we decided to comply and remove the stories with the code.

But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

Digg on,


This post is on Digg’s blog, and is complete with a Digg submission linking to it by Kevin himself. Many have taken this as Kevin and Digg coming around to their readers point of view and allowing them with good grace to post the code as they see fit. I don’t agree, to me this post is a last ditch attempt to reason with the Digg users and say: you lose the whole site, or you get to post your dumb code. It’s also the quickest way out for Digg, by allowing the posting they no longer make it necessary and they can remove them in a day or two when everyone has clean forgotten.

As always in these situations I highly doubt that more than 5 or 10% of the Digg readership were actually involved in this – but if they shout and scream loud enough that’s all that’s needed for them to get what they want over the reasoned arguments of everybody else. Digg by allowing this has opened themselves up to a hundred other groups who will want their own way on the most popular social news site on the internet in the future.

If you’re a Digg user or have any thoughts on this new mob dynamic I’d like to hear from you in the comments, I’ll keep this story up to date as any more comes in.

update at 12:35 02 May 2007

I read this blog piece on Digg’s troubles, it’s an interesting bit of opinion from a female who are in small supply on the popular social news website and I’d have to agree with a large portion of it.


One Comment on “Activists or Mob? The First Digg Riots”

  1. […] please, when the mob is rioting on Digg, the fanboys are screaming giddily at another gig of memory on an iPod or googledesktop reports on […]

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