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Touched by a Robot: Running Afoul of Reddit

"I didn't think of myself as a spammer. Still don't. I wondered if some troll with a personal grudge against me might've flagged me as a spammer. I held onto the hope that this couldn't possibly be about me or how I participated in the community."

Wes Platt, Blogger

September 1, 2016

4 Min Read

In retrospect, that message probably shouldn’t have surprised and angered me so much.

At the time, though, I was furious. I hadn’t received any sort of warning. I just logged in for my usual Reddit skimming and saw the note. Spamming? I didn’t consider myself a “spammer.” It must be some kind of mistake, I thought. Or maybe someone hacked my account and did something awful (although I found no obvious evidence of that in my Reddit history). I responded immediately, but tried to keep it civil.

The humbling and equally reasonable answer from redditor BeastIntentions:

I’m a latecomer to Reddit and really didn’t start immersing myself in it much until I took on the second full-time job of marketing Knee Deep for Prologue Games. It took about half a year of (it turns out) unwelcome behavior before The Virtual Man smacked me down. I didn't think of myself as a spammer. Still don't. I wondered if some troll with a personal grudge against me might've flagged me as a spammer. I held onto the hope that this couldn't possibly be about *me* or how I participated in the community. I felt indignant. My civility wore thin. I wrote back:

No response to that one. But despite my assertion that I'd let it go, I couldn't. My reporter's curiosity wouldn't relent. I pressed further: 

A troll didn't report me, I soon learned. No anonymous human plotted against me. Instead, I was downed by a cyberdrone in Reddit's anti-spam arsenal and its algorithmic examination:  


See, Reddit works best for people who *love* to start threads and comment on all kinds of topics. It is absolutely not a good place to just promote your own projects. They even warn you about that in their terms of service which, of course, I hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention to when I created my account.

And let's take a snapshot of my most recent activity about the time my account got suspended for a few days, just to get context. What did the spambot see? This:

Of 14 links in that damning transcript of misdeeds, 13 are about Knee Deep - and they're not even subtle, offhand plugs. They're outright "Look at our indie game! Buy it!" blatant propaganda!

Reddit's best practices post recommends no more than 10 percent of your activity on their site linking directly to your own content.

I'm no mathematician, but my snapshot showed it was obscenely higher than 10 percent. My iPhone calculator tells me it was actually less than 8 percent about anything other than Knee Deep. It's no wonder I got shut down. I'm now more surprised it took so long for the system to flag me and swat me across the snout with a stern "Bad dev!"

And it's not as if all that effort to enthusiastically promote the game on Reddit did much good. Even when I spent $20 for a few days with a sponsored link, we only got about 38 clickthroughs.

I feel like I learned at least a little from the disciplinary action. Here's how my Reddit content activity looked in the aftermath of the three-day suspension:

This time, of 13 posted links, only two are explicitly about Knee Deep. It definitely comes across as less "My project! My project!" and keeps me off the spambot's radar. That doesn't mean I'm not still running into trouble with redditors, though. One of my favorite subreddits is FloridaMan. I used to post whatever weird Sunshine State news I could find. Not anymore. Tired of actions like this:

I'd much rather be touched by a robot.

Wes Platt is the lead writer/designer for Prologue Games. Their first game, an episodic narrative adventure called Knee Deep, launched its final act on Steam in March. Before that, he was a professional journalist for the St. Petersburg Times and Durham’s Herald-Sun. He designed collaborative real-time adventures at OtherSpace, Chiaroscuro, and Necromundus for players atjointhesaga.com. He also worked as a design lead on Fallen Earth, a post-apocalyptic MMORPG, from 2006-2010. He's on Twitter at @DougPiranha. Reach via email at [email protected].

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