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Cheating Reddit – Auto votes

October 6, 2010 on 11:25 am | 25 Comments

cheating redditHow I cheat Reddit with Auto voting software…

What is Reddit

For those of you who don’t know, Reddit is a gateway for whats new and popular on the Internet. Users submit content that they find interesting (usually a link to a site or an image) and then other users vote it up or down depending on how interesting they think it is.

The thing with Reddit is that you need a little push to get a story going. No matter how interesting your picture, story or video is, if you don’t have that initial push of votes then it’s unlikely to go anywhere.

Reddit Traffic Stats

reddit google analyticsStats from Google Analytics show that between June 14 and July 14 Reddit.com received:

  • 429 million page views
  • 36 million visits
  • 8 million unique visitors

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Objective

The objective of these tests was to find out just how much traffic can be generated by submitting stories to Reddit and giving them a head start with shill votes. Since Reddit users are notorious for not clicking adverts, I focused more on product placement than ad clicks.

Method

I started by creating around 100 accounts, each account on a unique IP address. The accounts were created semi-automatically – I just had to complete the captcha. For the short time it takes to type out 100 captchas, it’s not even worth trying to code in OCR.

The next step was to come up with pictures or stories that were at least a little bit interesting and submit them to Reddit. I then used the newly created accounts to automatically place votes on my stories.

I varied between upvotes and downvotes on the story. Varying the votes has two advantages – firstly it helps the votes look natural and secondly it puts the story into the ‘controversial’ area. So even if the story doesn’t have enough votes to hit the front page of the section it was submitted to, it will still get a lot of traffic due to being high up in the controversial section. Provided what’s submitted is actually a little bit interesting, it will generally get many natural upvotes from there hit the front page of the section it was submitted to.

Creating accounts and voting (Video)

The video below includes clips of the account generation and voting scripts running. I’ve only blacked out information to put off regular Reddit users. I’m aware that leaving the Story_ID, IDEN etc will most likely lead to all of these accounts being banned by Reddit admins. Luckily this is only a sample set of accounts created specifically for this blog post :p

Test 1 – Product Placement (Image submission)

Apple TV

My first test was to submit an image which highlighted Apples’ habit of simply swapping the dollar sign for the great British pound sign when launching new products. In this case it was the launch of the new Apple TV. I knew this image would spark some debate. Some would defend Apple and the reasoning behind the pricing and some would complain against it.

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reddit image bandwidthFor this test I aimed at a competitive category. I submitted the image directly to the [PICS] subreddit. In the first 8 hours the image received around 40,000 views. After about 24 hours the views died down and settled on just under 45,000 views.

Test 1 – Conclusion

Although the image could be seen as slightly negative due to the debate caused over the pricing, there’s now tens of thousands of people aware that Apple just launched a new product. Success!

Test 2 –  Traffic generation (Blog page)

Finished beer can man/robotFor this test, I targeted a much smaller category, [BEER]. Instead of linking directly to the image, I linked to the blog post in order to get people to land on the blog itself and perhaps have a look around at other posts. The post in question was the beer can man I posted a few days ago. It took only a small number of automated votes to hit the “HOT” list in the [BEER] subreddit.

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Test 2 – Conclusion

The test was a success, the story hit the top of the beer category very quickly and sat in the top ten for the next 24 hours. However, since it’s not that popular of a category, the traffic wasn’t huge.

beer can man page stats

Update

This is a quick update for all the Reddit users who’ve only just now noticed this post (even though I submitted it to Reddit myself!). A lot of you don’t seem to get it. This isn’t about increasing Link Karma or making a story look popular to the advertiser. Let me break this down for you:

1) An advertiser has a product or service that they want to promote. They create something interesting related to this product/service, such as a funny image or blog post and then give it to me.

2) I submit the story to Reddit and give it a boost with fake votes.

3) The fake votes push the story up so that a lot of people see it. It will get an initial surge of traffic because people think it’s already been voted up by other genuine users. Then, provided it’s genuinely interesting, it will get genuine votes and comments from there.

P.S Thanks Reddit users for all the traffic you’re sending to this post! You’ve got my vote! I deleted the account used for these tests since it’s obviously no good anymore.

I’m absolutely stoked that my post made it onto two of my favourite sites-  HackaDay.com and TheRegister.

25 Comments »

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  1. Most Redditors use AdBlock anyway, so if you were hoping to make money off us by driving traffic to your blog, well, good luck.

    Selling your services, however, to large firms seems feasible.

    Comment by Not happening — 8th October, 2010 #

  2. Indeed, as I said in the post, you shouldn’t be expecting ad clicks from this. What you’re expecting is brand awareness, product placement and if your site/blog is truly interesting then perhaps generation of new subscribers.

    Comment by admin — 8th October, 2010 #

  3. You aren’t good at this as you have already been exposed at Reddit for being a spammer and gaming the system.

    Comment by jeff — 8th October, 2010 #

  4. @Jeff – What do you think gave me away? Was it the blog post of the two submissions I made to Reddit about how I’m gaming the votes?

    Comment by admin — 8th October, 2010 #

  5. Nice trick, well done.

    Comment by Someone — 8th October, 2010 #

  6. [...] Looks like someone figured out how to game the Reddit system. This probably has been done before, but as far as we know nobody’s actually shared the methods in detail. [Esrun] wrote some scripts that allow him to register multiple accounts and use them to up-vote stories. [...]

    Pingback by Reddit hacking for votes and profit - Hack a Day — 8th October, 2010 #

  7. Thinking about writing something like this in Java, but I’m not much of a Tamper Data mood, don’t suppose you could post your source?

    Comment by Scott — 8th October, 2010 #

  8. Is it RedDit with their eyes shut?
    Who would trust a website where others can fake the results?
    I read Digg because I kinda trust their voting, if something is worth to be seen, and people “dig” it, i take a look too. Now… if someone told me that those votes could be faked out, i’m out of there.
    So… reddit doesn’t care for this PoC ???? neither their users? and even acuse you of being a spammer?
    LOOOLLLL!! F**ck them :D

    Comment by YaBa — 8th October, 2010 #

  9. @Scott – I’m a bit concerned that releasing the full and finished source code would kill Reddit overnight. Although they’ll hopefully be changing things as a result of this blog post. However, I’d be happy to update the article with more technical details on how it works and about the few bumps I hit along the way that you should avoid.

    @YaBa, sorry to tell you this but there are far more people gaming DIgg than you could even count. It’s openly sold as a service by many people. Most commercial outfits will charge you $100-$250 for a frontpage..

    Comment by admin — 9th October, 2010 #

  10. @admin – I’ve got mine just about finished now anyways, their API is pretty simple to interface with, but the JSON responses are tricky to parse in Java. Just curious, what’re you using for changing your IP each time? I tried the Tor Project but the class I was using to interface with the control port was causing errors.

    Comment by Scott — 10th October, 2010 #

  11. you want traffic? lets se what your server costs are

    Comment by dongld — 10th October, 2010 #

  12. If the traffic is targeted and interested in my post then sure. If it’s a DDoS then no… I don’t want :p

    Comment by admin — 10th October, 2010 #

  13. Nice job on making it onto El Reg Esrun.
    Congrats

    Comment by Earl Grey — 11th October, 2010 #

  14. heh, this is a blast from the past. Cheers!

    Comment by admin — 11th October, 2010 #

  15. there is a lot of anger here. i don’t understand why. it is some sly bit of programming i think.

    Comment by ss — 12th October, 2010 #

  16. I’d recommend using a phonetic password generator used with a dictionary file to seed the names… can show you an example of a script.

    So you’d generate items like 50Xbox433 and Jim5ci and CappinkOben etc.

    Your use of completely random characters seems like a big damn flaw to me, and easily spotted to someone who’s used to looking at records 10k a clip.

    On the flipside, there’s ways to stop generic bulk account creations too using some tricks inside the captchas generator. Requires some slight network configuration and cookies and port magic.

    Just sayin.

    Comment by shadowspawn — 12th October, 2010 #

  17. Slick stuff, love the video of it (and background song).

    Comment by averagewhiteguy — 12th October, 2010 #

  18. @shadowspawn thanks for the great feedback. With regard to the passwords, they weren’t even as strong as random characters. They’re generated from a small character set and all follow the same structure. If I was to build these accounts up over time, have them randomly auto vote on homepage stories, add comments and such like then I’d be a lot more considerate to making them look legit. Perhaps working from a ‘common password’ list and adding in characters. However these really are throw away accounts used purely for this blog post.
    As for stopping bulk account generation. They can slow it down but they can never stop it.

    Comment by admin — 13th October, 2010 #

  19. [...] Auch wenn das Thema Social News Dienste in Deutschland noch immer nicht so richtig durchgestartet ist, gibt es bei den amerikanischen Vertretern immer wieder interessante Manipulationen, die auf die Generierung von massivem Traffic abzielen. Neben Digg ist Reddit der Social News Dienst mit der größten Reichweite und den meisten Usern. Ein Startseiteneintrag kann auch bei Reddit Besucherzahlen im hohen fünfstelligen Bereich bedeuten und steht somit Digg nur wenig nach. Das besondere an Reddit ist, dass neben den normalen Spambekämpfungsmechanismen auch menschliche Moderatoren eingreifen können. Dies sollte Manipulationen eigentlich vorbeugen, funktioniert in der Praxis aber leider weniger, da viele dieser Moderatoren Eigeninteressen vertreten. Ein ähnliches Phänomen, welches auch bei DMOZ zu beobachten ist. Ganz ohne menschliche Einflussnahme kommt die Methode aus, die ich Euch heute kurz vorstellen möchte. Vorweg: Es handelt sich hierbei mal wieder um eine Technik, die nicht ganz frei von rechtlichen Problemen ist. Diese gehen von den AGB der Plattform Reddit bis hin zu eventuellen Verletzungen im Wettbewerbs- und Markenrecht. Deshalb kann ich aus rechtlichen Gründen von einer Nachahmung nur abraten. Die gesamte Methode wurde entwickelt und getestet von Esrun. [...]

    Pingback by Traffic-Boost dank Reddit-Cheating — 28th October, 2010 #

  20. If the article’s interesting you don’t need to game the system – people will vote on it naturally.

    Comment by kylec — 3rd November, 2010 #

  21. @kylec

    Not necessarily.
    Most people find success on social media sites is capricious; not a lot of people read the “new” queue, so your first few organic votes are a matter of luck. Downvotes on reddit make this go double. Even great content can get buried if it doesn’t get noticed.

    An advanced method is to recognize the role of “social proof” in social media. My informant has collected behavioral data sets from certain social media sites and discovered that the C.T.R. on articles increases as the number to the left increases: even if the headline is uninteresting, the high number makes people think that it “has to be good;” in experiments where the number of “ringer” votes was varied, she discovered that the ratio of “organic” to “ringer” votes got better the more “ringers” there were.

    Comment by terra_t — 3rd November, 2010 #

  22. I will claim guilty to this. Whenever a thing is esteemed by many, especially people respected, I will always contemplate its worth far longer than if I passed by something unannounced and unawares.

    Comment by katovatzschyn — 3rd November, 2010 #

  23. The people who do things like this, those who do any social media operations (SMO), are smart enough to use it to promote ‘acceptable’ content that won’t be flagged as spam.
    If it comes down to a war with the operators of the site, you will lose. If it gets personal, they’ll burn you.
    Successful SMO promotes content which, plausibly, you’d imagine succeeded organically. Sometimes the content is excellent and sometimes it’s a little substandard, but it doesn’t stick out as spam. It decorates itself in a pretty cloak to look legitimate.
    Unethical tactics in SMO are like steroid use in sports: Steroid users aren’t lazy people taking a shortcut, they’re people who train hard, can play a good game honestly, but are looking for an edge that will keep them in the market.
    It’s a tough business because social traffic isn’t good traffic for people who play the numbers game. You’ve got to relentlessly produce fresh content and relentlessly promote it. If you stop, you could be left with little permanent traffic. You’ll get hooked on social traffic, however, by the ego rush you get the first time you get a burst of it and it crashes your server.

    Comment by terra_t — 3rd November, 2010 #

  24. You’re quite frankly a legend that writes some of the only SEO/IM posts worth reading.

    Comment by Mark — 1st December, 2010 #

  25. Interesting read. I think they would have to be onto this by now though? Amazing stats!

    Comment by Lee Guelph — 28th June, 2011 #

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