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Daily Kos Manipulating Yahoo News

John on December 11, 2005 at 8:44 pm

[Welcome Wizbang readers.]

Yahoo News has a category called “Most Popular” which if you look more closely turns out to be “most e-mailed.” In any case, the reader is led to believe he or she is getting a rough representation of what news items people are interested in on a given day. The changing numbers after the headline suggest a kind of stock market where the most interesting stories are elevated because of their perceived value.

A few days ago I posted about some apparent bias at Yahoo News. My immediate interest was how a forgettable piece of fluff titled IS GEORGE BUSH THE WORST PRESIDENT…EVER? managed to stay in the “most popular” category for six days in a row[See archives at bottom of this page]. As I noted at the time, I’d never seen any story last anywhere near this long.

Suspicious, I searched and found the story posted on Daily Kos by someone called lawnorder. After the post there was a comment, also by lawnorder, which said:

Freep the Yahoo list (none / 1)
Let’s get this article to stay on top for a long time, shall we ?

I contacted Yahoo News and while they would not explain how the “most popular/most e-mailed” is caluculated, they did say:

The articles in question are calculated based not only on the number of votes but the date which the article was published. Only the most recent articles will appear in the most popular/most e-mailed sections of Yahoo! News.

This confirmed it was unlikely any story would remain in the top 5 for six days without some help. I sent Yahoo a link to the Kos post and pointed out that their news site was being used as a bulletin board. Their response was:

[I]t appears as though that site [Daily Kos] found an article they agreed with and thought to keep it going. I will say however, that since they’re not associated with Yahoo!, we have no official word on the matter.

In other words, “Yeah, it’s very possible, but we’re not going to confirm it.”

Today, lawnorder himself dropped by the site and left the following comment to my original post:

No conspiracy involved. You guys can do it too. Just find the Yahoo article you want to promote, click on “email article” and e-mail to one friend at a time. Don ‘t email to multiple friends at once.

Depending on the day, to get on the “top e-mailed” list all you need is 10-15 people to do this and it gets there. On other days you are out of luck, i.e. after yesterday’s London explosion, and two famous guys dying, I imagine a lot of people are naturaly e-mailing those so you may need 200-300 friends to get your favorite article on top.

Keeping it up for several days usually requires thousands of e-mails. I’m not sure my humble post did that. I believe it was natural, i.e. people were e-mailing it, both conservatives – to whine about it – and liberals – to smile about it

IMHO it is not even “gaming” the system since all you are doing is e-mailing the article to friends, and most e-mailed means just that right?

I’m guessing lawnorder might be a lawyer, not just because of the name but because he seems to have mastered the art of arguing in the alternative: Yes, I know how to do it AND your side does it too, AND I’m not confessing to anything BUT what’s wrong with it anyway? This is as close to an admission of guilt as a lawyer will get, but I don’t think you can read his comment without getting the idea he’s had some experience doing this. In any case, since neither Yahoo nor lawnorder see what the problem is, let me explain it.

If anyone can artificially inflate stories the whole thing becomes a sham. And more to the point, if I’m interested in what Daily Kos thinks is worth reading, I’ll go to his site. Yahoo news is not his personal bulletin board. At least it shouldn’t be. Yahoo needs to change its policy and only count one forwarded story per IP to prevent this.

What really bothers me is the sheer hypocrisy of it. There’s no point in “freeping the list” except to fool people into thinking a particular piece is more important than it really is. The whole thing is an effort to deceive. Ironically, this is exactly the sort of public misrepresentation which Daily Kos and friends are always on about. The “Bush lied about Iraq” story is to Daily Kos what rice is to China. Their argument is that the President used sly rhetoric to intentionally misrepresent the threat Iraq posed to a gullible public. [I disagree, but that's their argument]. And they clearly seem to dislike the President for doing this. More recently they’ve talked about the pentagon planting stories in Iraqi newspapers. They seem to think this is a bad idea when the pentagon does it. Finally, you can actually sift Daily Kos by tags, one of which is propaganda. The assumption here is that propaganda is bad.

So what’s wrong with artificially inflating stories on Yahoo News to fool casual readers? How about this answer, Kos readers: It’s propaganda.

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