Observing forced narratives and manipulation of public opinion on /r/btc

I’ve been noticing some peculiar behavior on the /r/btc subreddit involving accounts that have suspicious histories. These accounts portray as impartial redditors, but a quick glance at their user profiles tells a different story. The following article details one such case of suspected manipulation.

The trigger

On 25 Feb 07:59:48 UTC (T+0:00), /u/JobDestroyer sent the following post:

http://archive.is/PrI1H (saved 26 Feb 2017 11:07:49 UTC)

This post ranked on the /r/btc frontpage for the better part of a day and received some overwhelmingly supportive responses from the /r/btc community. At the time of writing, this is the highest rated comment:

http://archive.is/98rEs (saved 26 Feb 2017 22:56:56 UTC)

The damage control

Less than a day after /u/JobDestroyer’s post started getting exposure and support, a mysterious string of posts started to appear in what seems to be an effort to change the narrative, undo the damage done by the post and convince the /r/btc community that they should keep on “spreading the truth” about the “censorship” in /r/bitcoin.

Exhibit A: the mega-post from a trusted community member (T+14:20)

On 25 Feb 22:19:09 UTC (T+14:20), /u/BeijingBitcoins fires the opening shot — a long, detailed post that builds the counter narrative to /u/JobDestroyer’s post:

http://archive.is/EtbIf (saved 26 Feb 2017 10:53:32 UTC)

The post quickly starts to get an influx of upvotes and supporting comments, showing a pretty different picture from the one seen in /u/JobDestroyer’s post:

The poster, /u/BeijingBitcoins, is an employee of Roger Ver and a long standing member of the /r/btc community that is well known for his anti-Core stance.

Exhibit B: “noob” /r/bitcoin user thanks /r/btc for opening his eyes (T+17:00)

On 26 Feb 00:56:00 UTC (T+17:00), /u/eekue starts the first post in a string of suspiciously similarly-themed posts:

http://archive.is/eHnvg (saved 26 Feb 2017 10:50:53 UTC)

As we can see from a quick glance at /u/eekue’s profile, this is an aged account that was created 5 years ago, but which had no activity prior to this /r/btc post (except for a single comment made to /r/funny shortly after creating the account).

https://archive.is/YKJgv (saved 26 Feb 2017 10:50:28 UTC)

Exhibit C: “confused noob” CS undergrad tells /r/btc their efforts are working (T+20:15)

On 26 Feb 04:14:06 UTC (T+20:15), /u/gurgi_has_no_friends joins the conversation and tells about his personal experience as a “CS undergrad learning about Bitcoin”, how he missed out hearing all about the censorship, and asks a leading question regarding the ulterior motives of the people behind it:

http://archive.is/9RKnA (saved 26 Feb 2017 11:07:15 UTC)

The /u/gurgi_has_no_friends account is aged (created 1 year ago) and has some minimal posting history (music and gaming related), but this is the first bitcoin-related posting it ever made.

Exhibit D: another enlightened /r/bitcoin user finds out about /r/btc, wants to learn more! (T+25:30)

On 26 Feb 09:28:37 UTC (T+25:30), /u/NeoShico sends the 4th damage control post. This time its short and sweet: I don’t know anything, can you fill me in? The point being: there are people who still don’t know about the “censorship”, don’t stop with your efforts to enlighten them.

http://archive.is/Cpr22 (saved 27 Feb 2017 08:51:52 UTC)

Again, the /u/NeoShico account is aged (4 years old), but it only started posting in bitcoin-related subreddits a month ago.

At this point, the narrative has changed. The damage control posts are all highly upvoted, with supportive comments, and occupy 4 of the top 6 spots on the /r/btc frontpage:

/r/btc frontpage on T+28:00 (26 Feb 2017 11:56:34 UTC)

But to really hit a home run, we’re still missing one final piece: the direct call-to-action.

Exhibit E: the final nail. DON’T STOP SPREADING THE TRUTH! (T+31:00)

On 26 Feb 15:06:41 UTC (T+31:00), /u/keepitup99 (“keep it up”) sends the 5th and final damage control post, this time more direct and to-the-point, no fluffing around:

http://archive.is/gcPJ7 (saved 27 Feb 2017 08:50:57 UTC)

The /u/keepitup99 account is a brand new throwaway that was created just a few hours prior to sending the post, with the explanation that he’s “sending from a throwaway due to fear of retaliation from the BlockstreamCore mob!”.

When people started questioning the authenticity of the post, others were quick to defend the throwaway poster — including none other than Roger Ver (/r/btc owner) and BitcoinXio (/r/btc moderator):

http://archive.is/mnSGF (saved 27 Feb 2017 12:19:29 UTC)

And it worked. This post quickly proved to be the most effective of the five, with a huge influx of upvotes (at the time of writing, 349 upvotes vs 159, 254, 41 and 144 for the previous posts) that made it rise to the top and stick there for many long hours.

/r/btc frontpage on T+33:00 (26 Feb 2017 19:00:20 UTC), http://archive.is/HBfXN (saved 26 Feb 2017 21:45:16 UTC), http://archive.is/iX70k (saved 26 Feb 2017 23:22:16 UTC), http://archive.is/oQQT1 (saved 27 Feb 2017 08:50:25 UTC)

I believe this is just one example of the use of throwaway accounts to systematically suppress ideas that counter the official /r/btc narrative. I have been noticing this for a while, and I hope this article will give other people the tools they need to spot this behaviour themselves.

Update: more suspicious posts keep showing up!

(as of 28 Feb 09:33:17 UTC, all four posts [F, G, H & I] are ranking in the /r/btc frontpage.)