It’s always only been second to YouTube in the abysmal quality of its comments, and it’s intentionally structured to promote the worst behavior in its community.
In practice, the ability of anyone to spawn their own subreddit plus the upvoting/downvoting mechanism leads to each subreddit being an angry little fiefdom fiercely dedicated to its own idea of consensus where dissenting opinions get downvoted into oblivion. A community that’s seen to have a particularly obnoxious bias, say, r/Android supposedly being in the tank for Google Nexus devices, will develop a community focused on attacking the first community for being a “circlejerk” (r/Androidcirclejerk) that has the exact opposite bias and exists to post memes mocking Google Nexus devices for how they’re overrated trash. Eventually one community will lose its patience and “brigade” another community, flooding it with hostile posts in order to show the other side how wrong they are, and mods are forced to stay up all night banning people until everything settles down again (and several users, usually female, have quit Reddit for good after being blasted with death threats).
I know what that’s like. If I leave this site for a few days, either because of travel or illness, it’s pretty much guaranteed that some troll somewhere (and we all know where they come from) will decide to “brigade” Pharyngula. Thanks, Reddit (and 4chan and 8chan) for normalizing that kind of entitled behavior! And we all know what kind of people enjoy that kind of activity.
This is exactly as petty and stupid as it sounds. It’s also as alienating to ordinary, non-basement-dwelling troll users as it sounds. It’s the reason Reddit has gotten a reputation for being attractive to creepy, obsessive people for whom the inherently toxic environment is a reasonable price to pay to be around people like them. These are often people who have very strong opinions that polite society, for obvious reasons, disapproves of—pedophiles, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and unrepentant sex criminals.
It’s going to get more disgusting. After a brief and minimal attempt to purge Reddit of the worst of its hateful subreddits, the CEO, Ellen Pao, resigned. This is not a good thing. Pao herself has acknowledged that the trolls are winning.
The Internet started as a bastion for free expression. It encouraged broad engagement and a diversity of ideas. Over time, however, that openness has enabled the harassment of people for their views, experiences, appearances or demographic backgrounds. Balancing free expression with privacy and the protection of participants has always been a challenge for open-content platforms on the Internet. But that balancing act is getting harder. The trolls are winning.
Fully 40 percent of online users have experienced bullying, harassment and intimidation, according to Pew Research. Some 70 percent of users between age 18 and 24 say they’ve been the target of harassers. Not surprisingly, women and minorities have it worst. We were naive in our initial expectations for the Internet, an early Internet pioneer told me recently. We focused on the huge opportunity for positive interaction and information sharing. We did not understand how people could use it to harm others.
She says that balancing freedom and responsibility on the internet is an extremely hard problem, and I agree. The evidence says that the current balance is all wrong, and skewed in favor of obnoxious assholes using the tools of the internet to harass and harm people they don’t like; they’re also fanatical about “free speech”, not because they actually believe in the principle, but because they’ve adopted “free speech” as a high-minded label to attach to harassment specifically intended to silence other people’s speech.
Unfortunately, now that she’s gone, the current board of Reddit has made decisions to reinforce the worst of Reddit. They’ve decided that the rotten, repugnant hate subreddits will not be removed from the site, but instead, will be “hidden” — if you know about them, you can find them, but they’ll still be sponsored and allowed to thrive with their nasty subscribers. It’s like having a suppurating abscess, and rather than treating it, slapping a bandage over it. The rot continues, and spawns more hidden viciousness, but no one except the perpetrators and contributors get to see it. That is, until the hate grows enough that it’s sponsored forums can erupt elsewhere.
Adding to the repugnance of this “hide the hate, but keep hosting it” policy is the fact that, in the wake of the #RedditRevolt against now ex-CEO Ellen Pao, and Dylan Roof’s racist murders in Charlestown, South Carolina, /coontown and other blatantly racist subreddits have seen a giant boost in traffic, with more than 18,000 subscribers and roughly 200,000 page views a day.
If you want confirmation that Reddit’s new policy is a catastrophic disaster that is completely wrong, all you have to is look at one of the most prominent racist subreddits, r/coontown. They are overjoyed, and celebrating their ability to be supported by Reddit in saying the most disgusting, evil racist shit, with the benign tolerance of the CEO.
According to CEO Steve Huffman, /r/CoonTown is not a community that “harasses, bullies, or abuses an individual or group of people,” despite existing only to denigrate, belittle, and discuss the genetic worthlessness of the entire black race. “The content there is offensive to many,” Huffman punted, “but does not violate our current rules for banning.” Instead subreddit will be “reclassified,” which means nothing.
Reddit is now offically the “front page of the internet” for white racists and misogynists. The trolls really have won the battle, and have successfully occupied one of the bigger, more popular sites on the internet — but what they’ve won is now widely known as a racist hellhole. Victory!