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The Tiny Post Lesson: You cannot build a great community using fake accounts.

The Tiny Post Lesson You cannot build a great community using fake accounts

Source: Dave Lee

Stashed in: Reddit!, Be yourself., Authenticity, Startup Lessons, Trust, Awesome, Startups, STAHP!, @alexisohanian

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One growth hack mentioned in the past is Reddit's use of fake accounts in 2005 to make it look like a community when it was just a few people.

In other words, they faked it till they makes it.

I think this is a terrible approach to community building. Never build a community on a lie unless you'd like to end up with a misogynistic cesspool like Reddit.

Here's more evidence that it's a bad practice, as illustrated by Tiny Post.

Watch as user Dave Lee uncovers the mystery of Tiny Post spamming him.

TechCrunch picked up the story, as did Hacker News.

Now, why would anyone trust Tiny Post again?

Answer: They won't.

Your brand stands for your values.

If you show that you value inauthenticity your brand will suffer.

Be authentic.

Be who you are, as hard as you can.

Be yourself.

Unless yourself is inauthentic.

In which case, fix that.


I actually noticed all the emails too abut a post from months ago and I was fairly surprised that people were liking my post. No surprise they chose female models. And yes, it'd be hard to trust their user engagement again now that I know it was fake.

I'll also add I know some of the folks behind tinypost and they are very kind and talented. Perhaps a small slip in judgment and glad they fixed it fast!

They probably would not have stopped if they had not been caught and called out.


Without having carefully reviewed Reddit's early fake accounts, I tend to think Reddit's tactic was legitimate. Reddit was always a pseudonymous community, and there needed to be some seed users to even demonstrate the functionality and give the early 'real' users someone to talk to. As long as the personas themselves weren't blatantly nasty and fraudulent, it's around the same level of appearance-engineering as a TV advertisement showing disproportionately slim, attractive, healthy people in a McDonald's.

(I haven't seen a case made that the Reddit seed fakesters biased the community development towards being the sometimes-nasty hive that parts of Reddit are now... I chalk that up to the fact it's a fairly young, semi-socialized/socially-awkward, identity-experimental, pseudonymous community with uncensored expression being a core value. And I don't think it's fair to paint the whole of Reddit with a 'cesspool' generalization, any more than you'd generalize about any other free-speech zone -- like, say, the USA -- based on its cheerful hosting of lots of hives of unlikeable speech.)

But to TinyPost: their transgression is definitely larger. They want true names (unlike Reddit) -- but then used fake ones. They emphasize profile photos (unlike Reddit) -- and used models. They sent new-activity emails disguised as wanted 'BACN' that were really spam.

I don't know if the Reddit fakester activity generated notification emails, but even if it did, if the fakester comments had thought behind them, as if from an actor in character, that was more genuine than unthinking mass 'likes'. Even a dramatic contrivance/skit can express something genuine, if it is illustrative/thoughtful... but purely phony filler/bot activity doesn't pass the test.

Thanks Gordon; I appreciate the perspective.

I'm willing to believe Reddit's current mysoginistic nastiness is related to its current population of undersocialized young males and not the fakester-inspired pseudonymity.

And yes, the Reddit fakesters did not generate emails so even though they were not real, at least they were not spammy.

The purpose of the Tiny Post fakes was to deceive; the purpose of the Reddit fakes was to encourage discussion.

So I'm in agreement -- those were very different in their approaches.

Yeah, but ...


"I'm willing to believe Reddit's current mysoginistic nastiness is related to its current population of undersocialized young males and not the fakester-inspired pseudonymity."

I fear the males are well socialized and cruising anonymously through a fraternity-think rite of passage.

Well, that could very well be.

It's unusual to find a community that's as large as Reddit that is also so consistently sexist.

Best insult I ever heard (not directed at me): You inauthentic bitch!

If you're going to be a B, be a real B. :)

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