Proposal: A Framework For Tracking And Acting Against Reddit Astroturf Accounts

Benign, Crowdsourced And Automated

The following is a method proposal that I believe can be used effectively to identify astroturf accounts in a benign manner.

The method is fairly simple and requires only a number of pieces working asynchronously to be effective in identifying offending accounts for further action.

The Third Party Method

This method will be necessary unless or until Reddit incorporates the methodology into their software. This method uses a bot to collect data about tagged comments and the associated account. This data can then be used to identify offending accounts. This list of accounts can the be provided to the moderators of r/politics for removal or forced flair (Suspected Astroturf Account).

Trusted User Pool (TUP)

First, it will be necessary to have a pool of trusted users who will perform the tagging of suspected astroturfing accounts. Ideally, these users will not know the identities of others in the TUP. This will prevent brigading and abuse of the system. Clearly, the larger the pool, the more effective this framework will be. For r/politics, it will be necessary to ensure that the accounts belong to real human beings with a long and varied post history that do not display any of the hallmarks of an AT account.

Tagging The Account

When found in the wild, TUP members will mark the account as a suspected AstroTurfer (AT). This can be done in several ways. A reply could be posted directly to the AT comment that contains a sequence of words or a link to an image like https://bit.ly/2S2gARO. Preferably, this tag is unknown even to others who members of the TUP, so that there is no possibility of brigading and therefore abusing the system.

Automation

A reddit bot can be programmed to go through the various interesting subs, find tags, note the TUP account and the offending account, and write the data to a database. If the offending account comes up numerous times in numerous thread tagged by numerous TUP accounts, then the probability that that account is an AT becomes more likely, and that data can be presented to the moderators of said sub for banning or to the moderators of reddit itself for removal, if possible.

Auditing Of The TUP

It will be necessary to police the TUP such that it is not infiltrated by AT groups. I recommend an auditing mechanism that would take individual TUP accounts, anonymize them, send their tag history to others randomly in the TUP for inspection. If an account is marked in an audit as suspicious, it can then be sent to a random jury of other TUP accounts for vote. Every TUP account should be audited on a quarterly basis.

Incorporated Into Reddit Method

The TUP

The concept of the TUP is the same— a large pool of trusted users, unknown to each other who are able to tag offending comments.

Tagging The Account

In this case, incorporation into the reddit source code could allow a hidden tag below each comment, visible only to registered TUP accounts, that allow them to tag a comment. This tag should not show a count so as not to influence other taggers.

Automation

Again, incorporation into the source code allows reddit to programmatically proceed against the suspected account however they wish using whichever algorithm they find to work best in regards to fairness and certainty.

Auditing Of The TUP

This should proceed as described previously.

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