The term "linkbait" refers to a search engine optimization (SEO) technique that is growing increasingly popular with website developers to lure people to their sites. And while social bookmarking sites like digg, shoutwire, reddit, and several others have been a great collection point for sharing information, they are also prone to corruption and exploitation in the hands of some individuals.
Here are a few reasons why sites like digg are becoming unwitting tools in a creative internet spammers arsenal:
First, each site offers some sort of an incentive to the individual to submit content. At first glance, this makes sense. If there was no motivation to submit, the amount of content submitted would be dramatically less. So to encourage activity, each site employs some sort of point system to the content and the submitters. For example, Digg and Shoutwire members can vote on the sites they think are good, driving that content to the front page and driving other links into relative obscurity.
However, this creates a sort of "Lord of the Flies" feel to the way things operate. Everything quickly becomes a popularity contest.
Because the content is voted on, a competition is created among submitters as to who can get the most votes. A submitter who gets their links to the front page of digg enough times soon starts becoming a notable celebrity within the digg community. As a result of this, articles submitted by this person quickly gain in popularity and may reach the front page simply because they were submitted by the individual and not because the link is of any real worth.
This system of voting on submissions also creates a large number of individuals that become fervently dedicated to deciding which articles move to the top and which slide to obscurity. This fanatical zeal that some individuals have over controlling the popularity of an article can also extend to the individual submitting the article. If one of these zealots decides that they don't like a certain submitter, then they will to burry that person's submitted link, regardless if the link was worthwhile or not.
Secondly, the more a link is tagged and submitted to social bookmarking sites, the more traffic flows to that site. People know that if their link makes it to the front page of digg, they will be swamped with traffic. This is known as the "Digg Effect" However, this methodology leaves itself wide open to corruption and exploitation by spammers. Because of the appeal of heavy traffic, digg has become a platform for individuals employing SEO techniques to drive traffic to their sites. It doesn't matter if the content is any good, only that it encourages a reader to go to that persons website. As a result of this, the quality of the content submitted on digg slowly diminishes over time.
A link can earn a large number of votes just by being interesting to the viewer, regardless of whether or not the information is true, accurate or correct.
A perfect example of this happened recently on Digg. A link was submitted that exclaimed "Just out from Reuters 650,000 PS3s to be recalled!!" The link grew in popularity and within two hours of being submitted, was voted on enough to drive it to the front page of the digg site. The link went to a fake article on someone's blog. The purpose of the submission was just to get people to go to this individual's website, yet even after it was shown to be bogus, the link continued to gain votes and remained on the front page of digg for several hours until the moderators finally pulled the plug.
And finally, another problem inherent with social bookmarking sites is that a folksonomic methodology to cataloging content (I.E. Tagging) has drawbacks in that the tags can be misspelled, mis-labeled, can have multiple meanings, etc. This causes confusion and misclassification of content, making the intended content nearly impossible to find.
Social Bookmarking is a useful way to find data and stay up to date on news and information that is of interest to the individual using the site. They offer a way for a reader to find content that is interesting to the individual while also providing information, news and points of view that might go overlooked by mainstream media - whether intentionally or unintentionally.
However don't think for one second that what you are looking at is unbiased or unfiltered content.