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Reputation Gaming with the Sybil Attack

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Online reputation management, be it a personal reputation or a corporate reputation, has become a growing issue for marketers over the past few years. Groups are popping up devoted to helping you manage, and in some cases clean up, your digital reputation.

On the flip side of that, there is another group also emerging .... reputation gamers. Reputation gamers are abusing the very reputation management systems responsible for our digital lifestyle such as Google,, eBay and Digg, etc.
Here is an example of such activity:
Digg is a site where its members can submit articles, along with a short description and a link, in the Digg system. Other members look through these articles and choose either to "digg" or "bury" stories. Articles with the most "diggs" make it onto the site's widely read front page.
One reputation gamer's method of choice was the so-called Sybil attack. Named after the famous case of a woman with 16 personalities, a Sybil attack occurs when an individual opens multiple accounts and has them all recommend the same article. If it gets enough votes, the story could make it to the front page of Digg, with a huge payoff.
Getting on the Digg front page is equivalent to a front page story in a major publication, drawing millions of readers who have the potential to catapult a story to the top of a Google search. If the Digg site has advertisers, it could be a financial windfall. If the site sells something – say a widget or a T-shirt – the rewards can be even greater!
Where's the Buzz? First of all, let me be clear - I do not recommend this type of activity. The Web 2.0 world is meant to operate in a self-policing way, much like Wikipedia. Marketers who go down the Sybil attack or a similar path should beware their reputation as a marketer is at stake. As for the sites themselves, I guess we need to think, perhaps worry, about the reputation of the reputation management systems themselves!

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Paul Dunay is director of global field and interactive marketing for Bearing Point (

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  • by Lewis Green Wed Jan 9, 2008 via blog

    Paul, Manipulating any system sucks and is just wrong! We should earn rewards, not cheat to attain them.

  • by Gwyneth Dwyer Wed Jan 9, 2008 via blog

    Paul, Are you comfortable sharing actual examples of a Sybil attack?

  • by David Rauch Wed Jan 9, 2008 via blog

    Nightclubs have been known to keep people waiting in line so that the place seems popular. Likewise, companies throttle back the supply of popular products (think Wii) to make them seem even more in demand. Both examples artificially boost the popularity of a product. However, they are standard business practices. The tactic you wrote about however, is looked down on. Clearly there's a fine line between scamming the system and trying to alter your image. I'm just not sure what it is...

  • by Michael E. Rubin, GasPedal Wed Jan 9, 2008 via blog

    Paul, until you wrote the last paragraph, I thought you were going to advocate this type of practice. I'm glad to see that's not the case. Let's not kid ourselves. We know this crap goes on all the time, but it doesn't make it any more right or less reprehensible. It usually has a much more malignant name -- stealth marketing. As always, I point to the WOMMA Ethics Code and the Honesty ROI as a great starting point for any marketers or agencies unclear on why this is wrong. Source:

  • by Mack Collier Wed Jan 9, 2008 via blog

    Paul I'm seeing more and more examples of people detailing how Digg can be gamed. I remember Tara Hunt posted at her blog 2 years ago how TechMeme could be gamed in a similar fashion. I think the real losers in these situations are the sites themselves. When the ability to manipulate the results is exposed, the trust factor goes down.

  • by Richard Millington Wed Jan 9, 2008 via blog

    Whilst this is a big issue, it's not comparable with the practices of b5media - a huge army of bloggers, who all digg eachother's articles regardless of quality just to see it rank highly.

  • by Ami Wed Jan 9, 2008 via blog

    I came across some where, a person having 21 different Stumbleupon accounts. And he said it openly on his blog. And, mind you 21 thumbs up on Stumble can bring you about 1000 hits a day (or even more), for continuously for 3 to 4 days. In my personal opinion, this not going to be long term. More and more, people are giving up their "anonymity" on the web and coming out with their true personality. Just like in offline society, even here on the web, the rest of the community will make sure these people get what they deserve to earn. Extinction.

  • by Eric Levy Thu Jan 10, 2008 via blog

    And, indeed, the reverse is true as well. As a frequent and long-time contributor to, I'm acutely aware that "gaming the system" but registering dummy accounts, IM'ing or emailing friends to cooperate with you and other social engineering tactics can elevate mediocre work to undeserved levels while burying extraordinary work by honest purveyors. Clearly, IM'ing or emailing your friends is out of the reputation management system's control, but certainly smart IP filtering or awareness makes the multiple ID tactic less viable.

  • by Paul Dunay Mon Jan 14, 2008 via blog

    Gwyneth I dont have any physical examples just the urban legends I described. sorry

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