Turns out Reddit's favorite scientist wasn't quite as popular as everyone thought he was. Ben Eisenkop, better known as Unidan, was banned by the site last night after the administrators there discovered he was faking votes to make sure his posts got more attention.
Unidan became known as the "excited biologist" for regularly explaining natural phenomena, for being hugely active in the /r/AskScience subreddit, and for generally being a likable, knowledgeable guy. He was also five other guys, apparently—turns out he was using at least five accounts to help destroy his enemies and to artificially pad his own comments and posts.
Because of Reddit's democratic up vote / down vote system, and because every post has to start somewhere, that's a huge problem. Usually, you can tell within a couple minutes whether a post will get popular or will get buried: Five early, quick upvotes is enough to push public opinion (and the post's visibility) in the right direction. Meanwhile, a couple downvotes soon after something is posted can essentially kill a post before it gets started at all.
"He was caught using a number of alternate accounts to downvote people he was arguing with, upvote his own submissions and comments, and downvote submissions made around the same time he posted his own so that he got even more of an artificial popularity boost," a Reddit administrator, Cupcake1713, wrote on the site. "It was some pretty blatant vote manipulation, which is against our site rules."
Unidan admitted to the fact, and said the manipulation was "mainly used to give my submissions a small boost (I had five 'vote alts') when things were in the new list, or to vote on stuff when I guess I got too hot-headed. It was a really stupid move on my part, and I feel pretty bad about it, especially because it's entirely unnecessary."
He plays it off as not that big of a deal, but, as I said, when something is new, those early votes are hugely important. In essence, Unidan was destroying posts that had a chance of being more popular than his, and was boosting his own—that's a 12 vote swing, which is absolutely integral to getting attention on posts.
"You would be surprised at how effective 5 upvotes of your own stuff and 5 downvotes of someone else's stuff is," Cupcake1713 wrote. "Early voting like that really does affect the perception of other people for better or for worse."
Despite being banned, Unidan has already made a new account, called UnidanX, and has been posting for most of the day under that username. It's looking like he hasn't been banned with that username yet.
As for why you should care about this sort of thing—maybe you shouldn't, but it's a pretty huge development for the site, and speaks to just how important Reddit has become.
Reddit has long since passed the point where it's merely a social networking site—it quite literally has the ability to make or break the commercial viability of news sites. It drives many millions of page views every day, and the traffic bump a top Reddit post gives a site is insane. Gaming the system, like Unidan did, is tempting for a lot of people, and, I'd guess, a lot more common than you'd think.