Bronze-level articleReddit

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The Reddit "alien" logo. (Extraterrestrials, we're so sorry.)
Now the best part — showing the world how angry you are. For that you need to go to Reddit to create an account.
New York Times[1]
While Reddit has done well in getting interest from the mainstream, I just wonder if by allowing these children to run rampant and post whatever they feel will cause the most collateral damage.
—William Shatner[2]

Reddit is a social media and content-aggregation hivemind website which bills itself as "The Front Page of the Internet". It is a popular site on the web, receiving over 37 billion views and 400 million unique visitors in 2012 alone,[3] yet can't make itself profitable.[4]

Being absolutely huge,[5] it has attracted a large number of fuckwits. Some sub-communities have achieved legendary odiousness, particularly a weird sexually-naïve yet resentful brand of sexists, and a gathering of ardent pedophilia apologists. For local interest, the Reddit atheists are considerably lamer than one might hope.

Although the awfulness is significantly awful, it should be noted that using it as an argument against Reddit in toto is a special form of the general argument against the Internet, television, books, and interacting with other humans under any circumstances. Sturgeon's Law arguably applies here, too.

Reddit is best treated as a form of internet television. It also used to knock RationalWiki over from time to time by sheer force of visitors.[6]


[edit] How Reddit works

Reddit works by having users (called "redditors") submit links to other websites, share stories, and post images, which are then voted up or down by other redditors. Comments on these submissions are also voted up or down. If a comment receives enough downvotes, it will be hidden from view by default. Reddit uses the up/down score of a given user's posts to calculate their "karma." (No one actually pays any attention to this except the user themselves.) A redditor's profile publicly lists all of the comments and posts they have ever made on Reddit.

The site is divided into smaller sections called subreddits, which each cover a particular subject. Anybody can create a subreddit (subject to approval by Reddit's administrators). Reddit admins take a very hands-off approach, wishing to keep their CDA section 230[wp] immunity, and each subreddit selects its own moderators, who in turn (attempt to) police their own community's posts and comments.

[edit] Whence the awfulness?

In many ways, Reddit represents the worst possible result of enormous popularity coupled with an immense and only loosely-connected pile of largely self-governing communities. (Take care not to assume a coherence that really isn't there.)

A sliver of any site's traffic will consist of cranks and malcontents; the jaw-dropping amount of traffic the Reddit receives means this subpopulation numbers in the thousands or even millions. These cranks then either set up or join an existing subreddit that supports their ideas. Unfortunately, the site's structure further encourages the spread of these bad redditors' ideas into any "good" subreddits.

Any redditor who posts a comment that contradicts the prevailing opinion within any of these nastier subreddits often finds all their comments and posts (which are accessible via their public profile) downvoted across all subreddits in retaliation. (The software attempts to counteract this to some extent: if the user downvotes comments on the public profile page itself, these votes are ignored for karma calculation purposes.) This marginalizes sensible redditors, not just on the crank subreddit, but across the "good" subreddits as well. Though socks and throwaway accounts cost only a few clicks/keystrokes, so this "problem" is easily manageable.

Cross-pollination between related subreddits also serves to grow and strengthen the various crank communities. Any thread that vaguely touches on crank redditors' hobbyhorses is swiftly hijacked. Subreddit moderators are often too apathetic, incompetent, or afraid of being too aggressive and alienating their own community to take any action, further encouraging crank redditors to continue colonizing other subreddits.[7] This is made worse when moderators across seemingly disparate or only tangentially-related subreddits are sympathetic to these crank ideas, and tolerate them to the detriment of the community. (For example, /r/ronpaul redditors spread into the /r/libertarianism community, which then spread into the /r/politics community, eventually turning Reddit into a particularly noisy fanbase[8] for Ron Paul's failed presidential campaign.)

[edit] Anti-censorship?

Reddit also has a strong culture (although by no means a universal one) present within it of subreddits opposing any form of moderation and believing that upvotes and downvotes should be the sole arbiter of whether content is any good, in the name of free speech — and that, consequently, any form of active moderation beyond that prescribed by Reddit itself is censorship. This extends to such things as prohibiting harrassing content directed at other users, racism, sexism, image macros, rage comics and other such things — the basic argument is that if these things are really odious then they will be downvoted, and if they aren't then that means the subreddit's readers want them there. This rather peculiar form of the just world hypothesis ignores the fact that all evidence available shows that if you have no form of enforced quality bar on an online community then it will quite rapidly become filled with low-effort content and subject quite dramatically to the dickwad theory. A demonstration of this can be seen by the stunning quality of strictly-moderated subreddits such as /r/askscience compared to, well, take your pick.

However this paper-thin veneer of principled free speech and libertarianism breaks down when it comes to anything that might be critical of Reddit or redditors' particular hobbyhorses. Calls are regularly made to close or ban /r/ShitRedditSays, a subreddit that overall does nothing other than link to examples of what it sees as bigotry across Reddit (and enrage MRAs and racists in the process), and for sites that dare to criticize Reddit on the interwebs, a "shit" icon is coded on many subreddits to appear on any link that directs to them. This includes Cracked and the Satanic blog that starts with a "G" and ends with "r," as described below.

[edit] The worst of Reddit

[edit] /r/mensrights

One of the top gathering points for MRAs, because they really needed one of those. Notably, /r/mensrights was flagged by the Southern Poverty Law Center in a report about online misogyny.[9]

Essentially full of outdated anti-feminist conspiracy theories, their contest to find the worst woman on the planet, and whining about any joke ever made with men as the punchline, while contributing fuck all to any gender debate. RationalWiki also annoys them.

[edit] /r/theredpill

Similar to /r/MensRights but actually worse. More open in their hatred of women and "betas," with quoting and mocking what male posters say in /r/relationships. Described on /r/TrollXChromosomes as "a place where bitter divorcees and young ugly dudes meet up to discuss strategies of making themselves feel better."[10] Even denounced as misogynist... by /r/MensRights, no less.[11] (It's unclear whether /r/MensRights users genuinely dislike TRP or are just trying to hide their own sexism.)

[edit] /r/jailbait

A subreddit that was, from 2007 to 2011, devoted to images of "clothed" (often naked, but with no genitalia showing) teenage girls, often heavily sexualized and taken from Facebook or Photobucket pages without the subject's knowledge. In October 2011, /r/ShitRedditSays brought attention to the existence of /r/jailbait and the mainstream media got involved; after an exposé by Anderson Cooper of CNN, Reddit shut the subreddit down. A noisy portion of Reddit now despises Cooper for doing his job.[12]

In February 2012, Reddit officially instituted a rule banning sexualized images of minors.

[edit] /r/creepshots

A subreddit devoted to posting images of women taken without their consent. Although "upskirt" shots were later banned, hundreds were posted here. Notably, a high school teacher was arrested and fired after posting images of girls in his class on /r/creepshots. Like /r/jailbait, /r/creepshots was brought to the attention of the mainstream media by /r/ShitRedditSays and was later shut down during the public relations debacle involving Violentacrez (see below) in October 2012.

[edit] /r/atheism

Not as relentlessly awful as some, but a good demonstration of the fact that not believing in a god or gods in no way implies any capacity for joined-up thinking or not being a horrible person.[13] The average user is significantly younger than on other atheism-related sites and is generally fairly new to the whole non-belief thing, so the whole thing is more of a celebration of the new-found ability to blaspheme without feeling guilty. Because of this, a large amount of posts end up being cross-posted to the self-explanatory subreddit /r/cringe.

Early in 2013, there was a little coup d'etat among the moderators at /r/atheism, wherein the founder of the subreddit was forced out.[14] The first assistant moderator that the founder had invited to help with /r/atheism became chief moderator. Afterwards, a lot of new policies were implemented, leading to the wailing and gnashing of teeth among most of the members. The original founder then created a new subreddit called /r/atheismrebooted (which is just like it sounds — a rehash of the best and worst of /r/atheism's original format). Yada, yada, yada. One of the users at /r/atheismrebooted was kind enough to post a timeline of their little soap opera here.

Anyway, it all became so annoying to the Reddit admins that they woke up for once and took /r/atheism off the default subreddit list.[15]

[edit] /r/conspiracy

Run by a white supremacist moderator who worships Timothy McVeigh, /r/conspiracy is the front page of paranoia on the Internet. Theories discussed there run the gamut from 9/11 to chemtrails to lizard people. /r/conspiracy has a large subscription base but is considered by many to be the laughingstock of the site, with regulars routinely accusing anyone who disrupts their echo-chamber of panicking of being a "shill" or an evil impostor working for the government/Jewish overlords/reptile people. Despite being presented as an open forum and "thinking ground" which "respects people of all religions and creeds," we dare you try to question the frequent and prolific appearances of Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Alex Jones.

Many /r/conspiracy regulars actually believe that most of Reddit is paid government employees watching them (and yet they still go there). Due to the insanity and hostility of the subreddit, other subreddits such as /r/conspiratard and /r/actualconspiracies have been set up take a slightly more rational approach to conspiracy discussion.

In September of 2014, the subreddit showed how anti-Semitic it really is by posting the documentary Hitler: The Greatest Story Never Told in their sidebar (which included a big picture of Hitler's face). The move caused major controversy and was heavily panned by /r/conspiratard and /r/subredditdrama.[16] Despite everything (though it shouldn't be any surprise) the documentary stayed up, and anyone who didn't like it were deemed Zionist Shills.

[edit] /r/holocaust

Created by an ex-mod of /r/conspiracy, a subreddit run by and dedicated to Holocaust denial. In early 2014, the mod list was expanded to include another mod of /r/conspiracy and members from the now banned /r/niggers.

[edit] /r/911truth

With a disturbingly large number of subscribers, yes, it's as bad as it sounds. Filled with so-called "professionals," the subreddit's Truthers often contradict their own evidence and fail to understand even elementary school physics.

[edit] /r/greatapes

Unfortunately, this subreddit does not feature discussion of chimpanzees or orangutans.

[edit] /r/spacedicks

Don't even think about it.

[edit] Other controversies

[edit] Gullibility

Redditors are known for being particularly gullible. Because most redditors are "passive content consumers" — they only read the title and then upvote or downvote accordingly — many articles with extremely misleading or false titles are upvoted to the front page of Reddit. It is common to see a highly upvoted article on the front page, only for the top upvoted comment in the thread to provide a detailed debunking of the article's claims. Reddit is at least as susceptible to hoaxes about topics like Republicans, marijuana, gun control, Bitcoin, climate change and workers' rights as the Twitterati. Reddit users have a full range of political allegiances, though clumping in odd ways.

In a well-known example, redditors fell for a hoax involving a user named "LucidEnding," who claimed to be about to use Oregon's right-to-death laws to perform assisted suicide. After redditors sent him thousands of comments and well-wishes, some users finally discovered his alleged mode of suicide (IV therapy) is not legal in Oregon. In the first of many incidents, Gawker writer Adrian Chen joked that he was behind the LucidEnding profile.[17]

[edit] Violentacrez

Violentacrez was a Reddit user responsible for creating and moderating many of the NSFW subreddits, including /r/jailbait and later, /r/creepshots. Violentacrez posted hundreds, perhaps thousands of images to Reddit. He also regularly made outlandish comments about his sexual history, most notably claiming in an Ask Me Anything session that he had sex with his stepdaughter. In October 2012, Gawker writer Adrian Chen obtained Violentacrez's real identity, that of 49 year old Michael Brutsch from Arlington, Texas, from a disgruntled former friend who met Brutsch at a Reddit meetup and became disillusioned with his disturbing sexual behavior. Chen contacted Brutsch and informed him that he would be writing an article about Brutsch's online behavior. On October 12, 2012, this article was posted.

War were declared.

[edit] /r/ShitRedditSays

A subreddit devoted to criticizing, making fun of, and drawing attention to the ignorant and otherwise disturbing content that some redditors shower with upvotes. SRS users typically find upvoted comments, post them to SRS, and then make fun of or heavily criticize the users involved. SRS was originally designed as a subreddit to try and educate these users, but when those attempts were met with severe downvoting, the users decided to turn the subreddit into the "circlejerk" it is known for today. Because SRS is supposed to be a safe space for marginalized groups to talk without fear of downvotes, those who violate the circlejerk or attempt to argue their "innocence" are swiftly banned in order to preserve the discussion space for people who would get downvoted elsewhere on Reddit.[18]

No, seriously, see the crap they uncover.

ShitRedditSays is blamed for all manner of things by all manner of people in Reddit, such as vote brigading, publishing personal information on other users and conducting campaigns of harassment against other redditors. The fact that there is no such proof of anything worse than cynical insults does not seem to stop them being viewed as a mystical bogeyman.

[edit] /r/creepyPMs

It also gets even worse with Reddit's personal messaging system: if a photo of yourself (no matter the context) goes to the front page — and you look any bit attractive to the hivemind — expect hundreds of sexual advances from the majority of 20-year-olds that inhabit the site.[19] /r/creepyPMs documents the more...unusual ones.

[edit] Actually decent subreddits

  • /r/scholar is the Pirate Bay of academia. Their powers to ferret out obscure paywalled papers are stupendous.
  • /r/aww is probably the nicest subreddit on the site.
  • /r/nottheonion is for real world happenings that cross into the realm of Poe.
  • /r/spaceporn for beautiful and awe-inspiring astronomy images (and not, as the title implies, smut in space). The rest of the SFW Porn Network is cool too.
  • /r/FanTheories has a few gems once in a while.
  • /r/askhistorians and related are good starting points if you need homework help, and often feature real-life academics. (Plus /r/badhistory features a tonne of amusing instances where people show how little they have understood.)
  • /r/skeptic is annoyingly blokey and dumb at times, but people actually come to it asking for help dealing with foolishness and get good answers, so it can be a good place to help combat public stupidity.
  • /r/Games is not /r/gaming. Expect a modicum of actual worthwhile discussion on issues concerning video gaming.
  • /r/BuildaPc is a good place for getting helpful advice on how to build a desktop computer to cater to your personal needs.
  • /r/debunkthis for when you feel like a visit to the shooting range.
  • /r/ExplainLikeImFive for complex or confusing phenomena and situations to be explained in layman's terms.
  • /r/Goats the official favourite subreddit of RationalWiki for obvious reasons.

And, of course: /r/RationalWiki!

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Put Your Rage Into a Cartoon and Exit Laughing, New York Times
  2. William Shatner Voices Dismay At Reddit's Dark Side, Huffington Post
  3. erik (hueypriest). "Top Posts of the Year and Best of 2012 Awards", Reddit Blog
  4. Reddit CEO Admits 'We're Still In The Red', Business Insider
  5. As of May 2013, 71 million unique views, 5487 active subreddits, approaching 5 billion pageviews a month.
  7. Why Reddit sucks: some scientific evidence, Washington Post
  8. The "Ron Paul 2012!!!!!11!" brigade was downvoted to virtual invisibility in many instances afterwards.
  9. Misogyny: The Sites, SPLC
  10. Pretty much.
  11. It's seriously that bad.
  12. Enter if you wish.
  13. See the redditors of /r/atheism in action.
  14. A little something to do with the founder not logging onto /r/atheism in about a year. Gotta keep current, y'know.
  15. Finally.
  16. "Isn't r/Conspiracy overwhelmingly opposed to 'big government?' And yet they admire the man who led one of the most intrusive governments in history!"
  17. Why the Internet Thinks I Faked Having Cancer on a Message Board
  18. It does sound a little harsh, but we're dealing with a website that verges into boob and poop jokes 5 minutes into any discussion. (Particularly on default subreddits.)
  19. Oh, you think we're joking?
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