Microcorruption: Watching The Slow Decline of Reddit

Reddit has, again, astounded me with the depths of awful behavior they continue to plumb as the days and hours go on. If they’re not boosting certain political candidates and suppressing others, or suppressing posts about a political candidate because they’re too damn popular, or engaging in blatant politically-motivated censorship now they’ve stooped to locking out all non-American schools in their “secret Santa” exchange, known as Reddit Gifts.

Reddit runs a number of these exchanges every year, for various topics. The gist of which is, you sign up, plug in some info about yourself and what you like, and some other random person tries to buy a gift that you’d like, while you get another random person’s profile to do the same. It’s good, clean fun all around.

Reddit Gift Exchanges

Let me give you some background – feel free to skip to the next heading if you know how these work.

The Reddit Gifts for Teachers exchange follows mostly the same principle as the other exchanges, with two differences:

  • The gift-ees aren’t sending anything back – it’s more of a donation drive using the same platform
  • Schools that sign up had to be manually vetted due to the existence of shitty people in the world who would steal school supplies

So far, so good. This has been going on for a number of years, and led to some very happy teachers and students all over the world

So what happened?

Of course, with something so unambiguously good and useful, naturally, Reddit would find a way to ruin it. This year, instead of running this gift exchange the usual way, they chose to partner with a third party company, DonorsChoose, who’s job it would be to handle the incoming requests and the vetting.

Problem? I’m glad you asked: DonorsChoose is closed to any organization outside the United States. This means that any school not located in this country is unwelcome in donation drive. Furthermore, they also require prospective donate-ees to provide a picture of their classroom and pupils, which is higly scary, and in many cases, absolutely illegal to provide.

The excuse given for this is laughably weak. Gregory Goomishian, aka /u/bluepinkblack posts:

Basically, it’s extremely time consuming for everyone on the admin/support/mod end, there were an increasing number of outrageous gift “demands” and and a continued lack of follow through with teacher recipients not posting a thank you in the gallery as required. It might not sound like a lot, but it really adds up. The time issue is a huge one. Each teacher has to be individually verified by an admin. That alone takes forever. But the influx of support issues that came along with this exchange was also a huge factor in determining that something had to give/change.

Let’s break down Greg’s claims one at a time, and see if some random on the internet can’t do better:

This would involve admins manually verifying thousands of teachers. This would have involved checking that each giftee isn’t asking for extravagant gifts. This would have involved having to explain to a bunch of gifters why their teachers haven’t posted a thank you note for the gift they received, when shipping proof shows it arrived last month. I’ll just be honest, doing this exchange was difficult, and not something that would have proved viable for RG (A.N.: Reddit Gifts) moving forward.

It is rather puzzling that a group crowdsourcing donations to teachers doesn’t think that crowdsourcing this vetting process can be done. Reddit gift exchanges tend to attract absurd amounts of people; he certainly can’t be implying that there isn’t an entire site full of volunteers who would do this for free, right?

He mentions “extravagant gift requests”. Give users who receive such a request a button to click, which either flags that request as suspect or deletes it from the system.

He mentions thank you notes. While “thank you”s are nice, they’re not exactly a common thing to get in the charity donation world. A donator gives of their time or resources to support a greater good, not to get kudos.

That entire explanatory paragraph is BS, in other words. Thankyous aren’t really a problem, verification could be crowdsourced with comparatively little effort.

So, BS from Reddit staff. This is not unheard of, though BS in the context of a charity donation drive is definitely a new low.

What’s the ulterior motive here?

Cost control

There’s a rule here: Cui bono? – or in English, “Who benefits?” – or perhaps more commonly encountered: “Follow the money.”

And, under this lens, the reason for the change becomes clear. By partnering with the third party who won’t work with non-American schools, the amount of total donors will greatly decrease, meaning much less staff involvement.

From a pure business standpoint, this is an all around win. They don’t have to actually do any work, and still get to put on airs about how great they are by helping all these schools in the USA. From an objective standpoint, however, they chose to leave the other 195 countries in the world out in the cold.

Is it morally objectionable to do less good than you otherwise would do in pursuit of the almighty dollar? This blogger thinks so.


Devops guy, Docker fanboy, your average everyday opinionated nerd.