Author note: This article has been slightly rewritten since its original posting on 2015/09/03 - mostly formatting and wording changes
Ah reddit.. the front page of the internet.. once described by its founders as a place for free speech and free discussion.
Until 2015. 2015 brought us the age of mass censorship, lies upon lies, and the exposure of the full depth of the corruption of the moderators of Reddit’s default communities (those seen when not logged into the site, which represents the great majority of their users.)
From free speech to censorship
Starting this brouhaha, Reddit’s corporate staff, led by Alexis Ohanian (aka kn0thing), outright banned a community, known as “fatpeoplehate”, dedicated to making fun of obese people. Their stated reason for this was the behavior of the people running the community causing off-site “harassment” of people (“we’re banning behavior, not ideas”). But even if this could be taken at face value, this wouldn’t explain their subsequent banning of any other communities with the same stated goal, regardless of their behavior or moderators. The actions of the staff directly contradict the stated explanation.
Furthermore, when asked, the staff refuses to give any specific examples of said harassment.
Later, after Ellen Pao’s (aka: ekjp) ouster and the installation of the original co-founder Steve Huffman (aka: spez), reddit was caught colluding with the governments of Russia and Germany to remove (or rather, make invisible) posts which are illegal in those countries, despite being based in the USA, a country with strong free speech protections. When questioned on this, Steve Huffman was quoted as saying:
As Reddit grows internationally, relationships with governments beyond our own in the United States become relevant.
Another user later asks what happens when the US government taps them on the shoulder the next time a leak of classified documents happens - will they remove the content under the same principle? Huffman then replies
Mentioning things unpleasant to the US government is not against the law. Hosting classified documents is
Someone should tell this to the New York Times, original leakers of the Pentagon papers. It’s rather shocking that the co-founder of a self-proclaimed “free speech” area doesn’t know that classification has little meaning to people who are not US government employees who didn’t take an oath to protect classified material.. (or else a certain newspaper could have been prosecuted for releasing the “pentagon papers” back in the day…)
A later question about why Reddit isn’t following the other bits of German law, such as censoring adult content before 11pm or verifying dates of birth, remained unanswered. Presumably they are just waiting until someone with the appropriate credentials complains.
Here’s another example: A self-proclaimed racist community, known as “coontown”, was later removed, not for harassment, not for breaking any of the stated rules of the site, but because of “a disproportionate amount of time spent dealing with a handful of communities”. Let’s not mince words here, coontown, if the name wasn’t a dead giveaway, was nasty, hurtful, serious racism. Stormfront/KKK-tier “black people are responsible for every wrong ever” type posting. That said - Reddit has no rules against ignorant, bigoted racism.
How the mighty have fallen! First, a place for free speech, now, a place where simply annoying the admins is grounds for permanent banishment.
Perhaps the founders of an open discussion board should not have founded one without understanding that free speech is precisely for things that you find bad and distasteful.
The utter contempt that reddit staff has for the intelligence of their users is breathtaking.
And if not contempt, the only other explanation for this behavior is rank incompetence. Either should send a user running in the other direction. But the admins selectively enforcing the rules of Reddit is not the only problem on the site.
So now we know, and can prove with basic logic, that the staff is straight up lying to the users.
Who else is lying? The moderators of the largest and most influential communities!
On a daily basis, perfectly innocuous and interesting comments are disappeared despite violating no stated rules of the community or the site. In many cases, content has been deleted based on criteria that seems tailor-made to be subjective enough to allow removals of any content for any reason. The main news discussion board there, /r/news, frequently banishes posts for being “political” in nature.
This sounds fine, until you realize that, by their reckoning, a post about the outcome of a court case can be considered political, while a post about the doings of an elected official in their official duties can be considered not. Try hard enough, and the political and the nonpolitical can completely reverse their definitions!
Corruption and Cronyism
Speaking of which, the default communities on reddit are incestuous cesspools. This is not hyperbole! Many of the top default communities (the ones you see when not logged in to the site, and the ones that a new member will be automatically subscribed to) share many of the same moderators. It’s worth noting that all of these default communities have upwards of ten million readers (with some estimates doubling that number!)
How good of a job is one person going to do moderating a single 10M+ user community, let alone many of them?
Admin staff of Reddit refuse to directly and clearly answer the most basic of questions no matter how many times users challenge them on this. “What is considered ‘brigading’?” “What is the difference between harassment and heated discussion?” “Why do your rules apply to certain communities, but not others?”
A lot of this is hard to speak about meaningfully without giving one a primer on reddit internal politics, hence the light information here, but take this post in the spirit it’s offered in: A rant, one based out of sadness and frustration.
And this is why I quit the site. Not only is there now less drama and negativity (and time wasting, heh) in my life, but I can no longer support a community that has gone from supporting the noble ideals of free speech to the far-less-noble one of ensuring that nobody is offended by anything ever.
Five years of my life were lost to the “front page of the internet”, and it turned out to be all for naught.
Here’s hoping the next “front page of the internet” retains their principles, rather that sacrificing them for political and financial gain.
I don’t think it’s going to be Voat either. Voat is basically a rewritten Reddit, but has some serious scaling problems (at time of writing, restricting new users sign-ups as the site began to collapse under its own weight), and is just one wrong hire away from repeating Reddit’s mistakes in exactly the same way. I’ve got an account there, but I don’t really mess with the site much.
The next forum will be one that is extremely democratic and takes control from the people running the site and leaves it in the hands of the most important people - its users.comments powered by Disqus