Reddit drama is a popular topic on this blog. With so much content being produced every day, sites like Reddit and Digg helped filter and verify relevant stories. Dubbed “the front page of the internet”, scanning the top stories of Reddit gave readers a glimpse of what was really popular around the web.
So it was something of a surprise when waking up this morning, and hearing of the terrible attack in Orlando, that there was little mention of the event on Reddit’s top news section. In fact the moderators of r/news seemed to be deleting posts and comments at an alarming rate. Other sub-reddits on the site picked up the slack, and discussions surrounding this tragedy were had on less than appropriate political and reaction forums.
Officially, this censorship was enacted to help focus discussion on the one major post used to consolidate discussion. This might have been understandable, as when news breaks like this, one would imagine a popular sub-reddit would be inundated with submissions. On a top post, the moderators of r/news claimed they were being brigaded by other communities seeking to spread an agenda of conflict with hate speech comments and posts.
/r/news was brigaded by multiple subreddits shortly after the news broke. This resulted in threads being filled with hate speech, vitriol, and vote manipulation.
We did a poor job reacting to the brigades and ultimately chose to lock several threads and then consolidate other big threads into a megathread.
Brigades are still underway and there is still a lot of hate speech prevalent in the threads.
While there were absolutely some less than civil comments being submitted, it’s somewhat disturbing to see a “kill it with fire” approach to post moderation. Eliminating all mentions of the shooters affiliation with terrorist organizations, and even disrupting discussions where folks were sharing information on emergency responses and pleas for blood donations.
Yet again we see the problems inherent to a business model which depends heavily on volunteer labor. Moderators of a news forum totaling almost 9 million subscribers are not paid. Building a small fiefdom, we see that either those individuals in charge are easily co-opted by outside interests, or are in a position of power where they can easily run an agenda. Adding gas to this fire, when questioned about these policies, one moderator for r/news not-so-helpfully suggested that a person seeking an explanation to this censorship should “kill yourself”.
These situations have become a bit more frequent of late for Reddit. We saw similar policing of content following the New Years Eve sexual assaults in Germany. The official response claiming protections against hate speech, yet using tools to recover banned and deleted comments finding little evidence for such draconian moderation.
In the wake of this story, a number of smaller “news” sub-reddits have been created to spread information, and in response to the initial backlash, r/news has reversed some of its policy on banning stories. Still, its not surprising to see the subscriber base for r/news slowly eroding. Over the time its taken to write this editorial, we’ve seen roughly 2500 people remove r/news from their feeds. That still puts r/news at around 8.9 million followers, but this debacle has certainly delivered all of Reddit a black eye.
If you can’t find relevant news on “the front page of the internet”, what is Reddit good for?