published July 17, 2019

Leave Us a Rating

Checking in on a story that’s been rumbling for a few days now on Reddit and in various podcasting Facebook groups: the sudden appearance of a lot of one-star ratings for certain podcasts in Apple Podcasts. One show, the true crime podcast Obscura, has gone public about the problem, and when I reached out to host Justin Drown, he told me over email that he’s seen his show’s one-star ratings go from “122 to 175 to steady heading to 300 in three days.” Four days in, he’s at over 500.

Drown has attempted to contact Apple via phone and email to talk about resolving the problem and some ratings have been removed, but then more reappear. The issue, he says, is that although there is a process for reporting a malicious or spam review (i.e. actual text), there isn’t a way of doing this for a star rating. I did contact Apple to find out more about how they’re handling this matter, by the way, but didn’t hear back.

Ratings matter, of course, because of their influence on the Apple Podcasts charts and their general impression on new listeners. Nick reported last autumn on what appears to be successful attempts to use bots to send unknown shows to the top of the charts; this is starting to look like an attempt to do the same thing but in the opposite direction, using a ton of fresh ratings to suppress a show’s discoverability. From what I’ve seen, some corners of the podcasting community are a bit shaken by this development. It might be an amusing curiosity when weird podcasts send themselves to the top, but it’s less so when a show like yours gets junked against your will.

More than a few people seem to be connecting this phenomenon to the controversy surrounding Sword and Scale host Mike Boudet, who took a break from true crime podcasting after his show was dropped by Wondery after he published a misogynistic Instagram post back in March. He returned to hosting his now-independent podcast on 4 July.