StumbleUpon’s Stumbling PR: Banning Loyal Users

Update for SU Visitors: Uhm, guys, in case that you live under the strange idea that we are using SU to drive traffic to this page, I’d like to make a small side note: if this domain gets banned from SU altogether it wouldn’t matter. SU is no longer what it was in the past and in my opinion it should not be used to “drive traffic” anyway. It should be used, as it was intended, to discover interesting pages and to share useful information. SU has some tech. problems and that’s a FACT. If these affect the users then SU should come with an official statement. If they decide to keep quiet articles like these will still follow, and I will not be the one to write them.

Update (twenty minutes after publishing): according to SU staff (but still waiting a confirmation from RJJ) – the main actor of this review is now an active SU user again.

StumbleUpon is one of the most popular social networks of Web 2.0, and until recently also one of the most enjoyable. But things change, empires fall, social networks degrade… StumbleUpon is no exception to the rule. Sure thing, the company tries to keep up the quality standards, but in the process – instead of helping users enjoy a positive experience – they just stumble, and fumble, and tumble, and rumble, and grumble – ultimately to their own detriment.

You will probably not find too many articles that criticize this network: nobody wants to piss-off a great source of traffic. But I no longer care: any network that bans loyal users is no friend of mine.

The average user at Stumble has less than 100 friends on the site, not so many discoveries, double the favorites, and even fewer reviews.

So, let’s define “loyal users” shall we?

A loyal user is a brand evangelist:
someone who lives and breathes the brand, often becoming its emissary.

Someone like the recently “ghost banned” (I will define “ghost banned” a little bit later) Rjj, who has over 1500 subscribers, more than 12K favorites and about 8000 reviews (and more than half of these are his own discoveries). Rjj was once a “top stumbler,” but today he is “ghost banned.” SU offered no explanation, other than that his account is “under review” – for the second time, I might add!


This man basically contributed to the SU database with over 4000 pages, and I can tell you from my own experience that at least half of these meet all possible quality standards SU can ever think of. Rob is one of those rare people who actually cares about what you like: he always shares interesting pages, and never votes for pages he dislikes – not even when you beg! For example, I have a thing for LED powered gadgets, and some of the most interesting pages I’ve ever seen were sent to me by Rjj via the SU toolbar.

In the meanwhile, StumbleUpon recently made some updates to its SU toolbar (for Firefox) that officially enable any user to block ANY site, except StumbleUpon’s. Talking about transparency and impartiality!!!

Click on the image to enlarge.

Click on the image to enlarge.

I wonder what criteria will be used to block sites on the SU network from now on. The same used for blocking a loyal user like Rjj? I can only speculate that Rob has some enemies at SU, people who repeatedly reported him as a “spammer” for sending too much stuff (or maybe those he would not vote for endlessly). Truth be told, Rob does share four or five sites a day via the SU toolbar, but wasn’t this precisely the type of user behavior encouraged by SU?

“To become a Top Stumbler, simply use the toolbar on a regular basis, clicking I-like-it at any page other members would like to stumble upon.”

Speaking of people who should be banned, I could make at any time a list of 100 such candidates on demand. In the meanwhile, this article may shed some light on what should be considered bad user behavior.

I have a “friend” who spams me with five shares every day, all links to the same lapis lazuli site, but is he experiencing any trouble from SU? No! And he probably never will.

So the question is, “what kind of a social network decides to penalize its brand evangelists?” Digg? Reddit? Delicious? Mixx? Propeller? MyBlogLog (are they still around – LMAO)? MySpace? Twitter? Facepoop, uhm… Facebook? NO! It’s StumbleUpon, the most praised network of them all. I mean, come on, all other networks have had their share of negative press. StumbleUpon has always managed to keep a low profile as far as bad publicity is concerned. But enough is enough. While I understand why a new and improved toolbar is necessary, I still have some questions:

What is the criterion to decide which sites are being blocked? Some random “user reports” – when these user reports could lead to a situation like Rob’s?

Why is there no option to block StumbleUpon’s own domain? Who’s there to decide that any other site deserves the boot, when SU’s own blog is the subject of negative reviews every now and then?

Click on the image to enlarge.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Is StumbleUpon the web’s new demagogue and censor? When you block a domain, from any social network, you automatically apply censorship to every scrap of content on that domain.

How about the users? Is it respectful to all the users who benefit from content supplied by people like Rjj to categorically block any further great content, and otherwise eliminate the possibility of a “top stumbler” sharing valuable content ever again?

Is it fair to be “ghost banned” by a network you use faithfully every day of your life?

Now let me define “ghost banned” for you. According to this article, shared by some SU employees I will not name, this is what “ghost banned” is all about:

You can thumb up, thumb down, discover… pretty much anything a regular user can do. The only thing is your efforts don’t count. You can tell if you’re “ghost banned” by discovering a page, opening up a different browser, and visiting the review page of the site you just discovered. If it says “Discovered by someone” and not you, you’re a ghost. No word yet on how to reverse this.

So to make all things clear for all of you, readers: there is nothing free online. SU is NOT a source of free traffic. Every visitor to your site is a result of your work: you are a brand evangelist for StumbleUpon, you are a dedicated user and you DESERVE the few visitors the network (spits) allows to see your site without pay. Note that SU makes revenue by selling a rather obscure (but effective) form of advertising: StumbleUponAds allows you to submit a page on your blog to be shown to StumbleUpon users as they go Stumbling. The cost is 5 cents per impression so for as little as $5 you can have 100 SU users see your page. The catch is that NONE of these ads are being disclosed as “sponsored” on the SU network. According to SU, sponsored pages show  ” a little green man show up on your toolbar. That’s how you know that it’s coming from our advertisers.” Basically, ANY page you vote for (or against) could be a paid ad. Again the question: how’s that for transparency and integrity? And StumbleUpon DARES to block users like Rjj? Come on!

Enough about StumbleUpon today. Personally, I expect an explanation from this once splendid network. In the meanwhile, dear SU, respecting your loyal users is vital to continue as a successful network. Lose this, and you are most likely to follow the Netscape path: you’ll need serious re-branding, under a different name, to come clean!

Stumbleupon cartoon.

Author disclosure: I am a StumbleUpon fan, a very active user and very passionate about the way this tool enables communication with people sharing the same interests.


  1. says

    This is happening to my profile as well..despite of discovering new articles ..I can never see myself as a discover stumbler… Is it the end of my profile?? :0

  2. says

    I recently read a story about how Su users who uses the toolbar and get Su from mutual friends become non existing SU users.. There profile does not matter anything..
    Everything is changing. Digg/Twitter and more or born baby Reddit…. Stumbleupon introduced and few toolbar updates…but is it enough to take care of everything… It’s time to wake up and make some amendment.. A clear Guideline , a clear algo….!!!!
    Kick Spammer and rebuild the old Love StumbleUpon

  3. Levi Novey says

    Thanks for speaking up, Mihaela. I’ve been on vacation for the past few weeks so I have not been stumbling much and haven’t noticed the ghost banning. I without hesitation can also testify that many of the people like Gerri and Rob are model Stumbleupon friends. They always send interesting pages and it’s not something they do constantly.

    What the heck?

    Hopefully the issue gets resolved and a more thorough explanation/apology is issued to those who were affected who were not abusing SU.

  4. says

    I’m pretty sure I have just been ghost banned and I know another guy who has as well, I do promote my own stuff sometimes, but I chop things up by promoting stuff for other people as well, and I use it to find stuff, have done for over 2 years, if you check my blog and reviews you will probably think it looks pretty decent, most users give me the thumbs up.

    Do you know how long it generally takes for a ghost ban to go away? I got banned for submitting my blog once and that went away fairly quickly.

    It really does suck, because I have like 300 subscribers there and I know my account can send about 100 clicks minimum but now it doesn’t, it’s like I have just had a load of RSS readers that I earned taken away from me or a twitter account or something.

    Twitter don’t go around taking peoples followers from them do they?

    They are way to uptight about the whole self promotion thing, all the best power social media users have vested interests in their respective sites, that’s the way it is. Clearly in this instance a guy got burned who definitely shouldn’t have because they are being total ball breakers.

    They say you are in fact allowed to submit your own stuff, they give you a god dam share feature and then they penalise you for using it, BS people! BS!

  5. says

    Ma, what can I do? I don’t know who still sends this to you, and all I can do to put an end is to close comments here – but so far I see no reason to it.

    FYI, Rob’s problem is not solved though, and this is a problem affecting other users too. I’ve never had a problem with SU, and if I ever do I’ll simply close my account, but not before I tell the world why – as I did with MyBlogLog.

  6. says

    I think it is time to put this issue away. SU is working on the problem and Rob is just fine with how it is being managed. Let’s not keep the flame going. It serves no one anymore. All problems have solutions and a solution is being worked on by SU.

    What more can we ask? I’m tired of this getting sent to me. It’s time to stop beating a dead horse. The horse is dead.

  7. Thierry Andriamirado says

    When one is ‘ghost banned’, does his stumble sent to other social medias as usual or not? (FriendFeed, Twitter..)

  8. says

    Seems that StumbleUpon PR is more complicated that other social bookmarking sites? get complicated.. and then become stumble

  9. says

    Hi Trina, thank you for your input. I heard about the Facebook images problem and I changed my personal preferences in my FB account. I was never an enthusiastic user anyway. SU is disappointing because this was actually the only network I really believed in. They never failed before – actually they used to have the best customer support in the industry.

  10. says

    SU should have kept their rating system pure. When they started allowing ad sites in, it totally wiped out their credibility with me. I want to see things my network really likes, not what some scam artist with a few bucks paid SU to show me. This is not the first article I have seen about this. I’m afraid this may prove to be a very bad move on the part of StumbleUpon. Users don’t like sneaky tactics…I for one (probably the only one) stopped using Facebook when they changed their TOS to allow them to use users pics on ads without their permission. I put pics of my kids on my personal pages, and I would have hit the roof if I had seen my kids on some ad.

  11. bennie k says

    SU jumped the shark pretty early on, IMO. All the spam turned me off a year or more ago.

  12. John says

    At the moment, I stumble for my own fun and have about 600 favourites. i find very few new pages that are worthwhile sharing while normally browsing. I can usually wrap the offered stumbled pages each evening, but I assume that is because my topics of interest are low (Linux, Astromomy, Cartoons, Crafts).
    Is there a rival offering?
    Is there a way to sort the favourites?
    Is there a way to change the language so it says favourites and not favorites? :-)

  13. says

    Contrary to what I said here earlier today it seems that the troubles with my account are still not entirely resolved …..
    When I checkout my discoveries in a browser where I’m not logged in and go to these discoveries, e.g. I’m again not marked as the discoverer and also my review is disappeared. I’ll report this to SU-support again

  14. says

    Rjj has long been one of my favorite SU friends. He shares several pages with me daily for which he knows I take interest in, such as science, design, and bizarre articles, most of which I would never have seen, had he not shared his discoveries with me.

    Most of his shares with me are from highly respected sites, and I cannot recall receiving spammy pages from him. Neither does he self-promote his own sites. He has always been a very friendly social media friend, conversing with me via the toolbar. What more can you ask for from a loyal user?

    Inevitably, users are going to become friends with other users who they share more common interests with than than others, and therefore share pages more so with them than others, and in effect, developing actual online friendships.

    To see people such as Rob getting banned makes me paranoid to even thumb up a quality page that I enjoy which friends have shared with me, for fear of getting banned myself. I know that I am not alone in this in any respect.

    SU’s TOS is certainly clear, but it is not defined clearly as to what constitutes abuse in regards to this IMO. At what point is thumbing up a page from a site which you enjoy considered promotion and against TOS? Once a week? Once a month, twice a month?

    I had actually noticed that Rob’s shares with me were not showing who had discovered the pages (namely him), and neither were his reviews appearing on the review pages. I’ve been seeing this increasingly with shares I receive from others as well. It makes one wonder how far-reaching this ‘ghost banning’ is. Again, making me further paranoid to thumb pages up which I enjoy for fear of getting banned. Isn’t that the whole principal of the SU experience is, to thumb pages up which you think are interesting or enjoyable?

    And what’s to be said of transparency. I really don’t understand the purpose of ghost banning. Eventually, those who are will find out that they have been anyway. Why not simply ban them and be done with it? This simply creates even more paranoia, and animosity towards a social site amongst even the most respected users.

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