A Redditor Just Showed How Easily the Site Can Be Manipulated for Viral Ad Revenue

First, buy a popular account. Then starting linking

If you visit Reddit frequently enough, you'll notice the abundance of accounts that just keep posting old content over and over, reaping the site's "karma" points.

But why? Reddit karma is just an imaginary number with no real value. Or is it?

A common theory is that Reddit accounts are created and loaded—possibly by bots using algorithms to identify popular content—with lots of old posts. Then they are sold to companies looking to make viral revenue off Reddit accounts that seem legit due to their high karma and historic activity.

Now, a Redditor has spotted what appears to be this exact scenario in action.

As a video of a baby orangutan, seemingly building a tower from large Lego-type blocks, exploded in popularity on the Videos subreddit, some savvy viewers noticed the clip was actually reversed footage of the ape dismantling a tower. 

But then user dublzz pointed out a more fiendish deception:

No one else has pointed this out, so I will:

  • This is clear vote manipulation. The channel is called Viral Animals, it was uploaded today, and immediately posted to Reddit.
  • The user is /u/GameVaultHQ, a 2 month old account and their only post is this one. They have some comment karma so the account history was probably erased and sold to this company.
  • The video is fake, it is reversed video of an orangutan breaking apart a tower.
  • The audio is muted because it would be obvious the video is reversed.
  • The video shot to the #2 spot on /r/videos in one hour.
  • The whole thing is being manipulated to go viral and make a lot of ad money. Notice how the video is already monetized? (For adblock users, open in incognito.)

You can watch the video here for context, though you'll be giving about half a cent in ad money to the people behind it.

The user asked moderators of r/Videos to remove the post from the subreddit, limiting its continued growth. (The forum has a rule against "third-party licensing" to avoid exactly such a scenario.)

Within seven hours, moderators had removed the post from the subreddit's home page, but by then it had nearly 18,000 views. By midnight yesterday, that count was up to 82,000 (per an update by dublzz), and as I write this (10 a.m. ET), the view count is up to 160,000. 

In other words, despite being outed as a sketchy ad-money grab, the plan continues to work. Some active YouTubers discussing the video on Reddit said it's likely getting a $6 CPM, which would mean about $1,000 in ad revenue so far. Not bad for quick work, especially if you can pick up a strong Reddit account for less than $200.

In the meantime, the YouTube channel has also changed its name from "Viral Animals" to "Cute Animalz," possibly to better mask the intent of the clip.