Last month, Reddit founder Steve Huffman announced that the site had found and removed several hundred Reddit accounts that were believed to troll accounts established on behalf of the Russian political interests. And this week, he announced that an internal investigation had found 944 suspicious accounts in total, all suspected of being run by Russia’s cyber propaganda machine, the Internet Research Agency.
Banning nearly 1,000 user accounts on Reddit sounds like a major move to remove trolling from the famously self-policing hub for communities called sub-reddits. But public-facing data shows it won’t have much of an effect. That’s because it appears that the majority of these accounts weren’t engaging in any real activity on Reddit. Huffman noted that 70 percent of them had zero karma, while only 13 had a karma score of over 10,000.
Huffman’s announcement was tied to Reddit’s annual Transparency Report. Some of the most active banned accounts — which have been recorded and preserved on Reddit in an effort of transparency — spent their time posting in subreddits geared towards African Americans, or Pro-Trump subreddits like r/The_Donald and r/HillaryForPrison.
For anyone who doesn’t engage with “the front page of the internet,” as Reddit is affectionately called, karma points occur when Reddit users interact with the platform. One needs to be posting and commenting to gain karma; the numerical total is less of a rating system and more of a signifier of how much a user is interacting with the rest of the Reddit community.
This happens to be a big week for public scrutiny of social media platforms, as Mark Zuckerberg takes the hot seat in front of Congress to describe the role that Facebook may have played in facilitating Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The timing was not lost on Huffman, who made a point of mentioning that a lot of the accounts with more than zero karma were even banned in 2015, prior to election campaigning reaching full gear.
“I also want to be very clear that none of the 944 users placed any ads on Reddit,” he said. “We also did not detect any effective use of these accounts to engage in vote manipulation.”
Huffman said that 145 of the 282 accounts with karma on Reddit were banned through Reddit’s Trust and Safety practices prior to the 2016 election. “This general pattern also held for the accounts with significant karma,” he said. “Of the 13 accounts with 10,000+ karma, 6 had already been banned prior to our investigation — all of them before the 2016 election. Ultimately, we have seven accounts with significant karma scores that made it past our defenses.”
Huffman’s efforts to release data surrounding bad actors, along with explanations of their activities on Reddit, is one way the platform is continuing in its attempts to differentiate itself from Facebook, as the latter continues to struggle to comprehend and explain the scope of malicious actors who have used the platform for political gains.