Reddit suffers from a fundamental divide: some "bad" behaviors are OK when people with the right political opinions do them. This happens for several reasons, the biggest of which are that Reddit's admins, mods and staff are generally of one side, and also that our society in general accepts these egalitarian ideas, and anything that opposes them is viewed with suspicion.
Yesterday, Reddit banned /r/CoonTown and /r/ChimpOut for being in-egalitarian. That is: those subs did not believe in equality, which is the basis of liberalism, which in turn is the basis of "Social Justice" as embraced by most Redditors who were taught it by their post-1968 hippie era teachers. In addition, those subs took a trollish, pejorative and incendiary tack to their presentation.
This leads to a divide that has long been written about on this blog. It is one thing to say "diversity does not work" or "statistically, people of African-American descent commit more violent crime," and another thing to blame a certain ethnic group for the failure of diversity or to use racial epithets, slurs, and satire involving that group. On that point, I agree with Reddit; I see the former behavior ("diversity does not work") as vital to accurate discussion and arriving at results, and the latter (racial slurs, satire and blame) as anathema to it.
However, this raises another ugly question: why are /r/ShitRedditSays and /r/SubRedditDrama still in operation while these others were banned? At that point, Reddit crosses the line into self-serving hypocrisy because it agrees with one group and not the other. /r/SRS and /r/SRD serve a purpose which is convenient for Reddit, which is attempting to shame away anyone who does not agree with the prevailing hive mind orthodoxy on Reddit, which it itself a variation of the founding ideas of liberalism, currently the "dominant paradigm" in Europe, the USA, Australia and Canada.
In other words, the gross truth here is that Reddit are conformists. They are conforming to the dominant idea, and they are allowing their users impunity to enforce that with the very behavior Reddit complains about. Their goal, in turn, is both not appear as conformists, and to avoid being seen as censors. So they encourage users to do their dirty work for them.
Here is head mod "spez" describing the new Reddit policy which led to these bannings:
Our policies are not changing dramatically from what we have had in the past. One new concept is Quarantining a community, which entails applying a set of restrictions to a community so its content will only be viewable to those who explicitly opt in. We will Quarantine communities whose content would be considered extremely offensive to the average redditor.
Today, in addition to applying Quarantines, we are banning a handful of communities that exist solely to annoy other redditors, prevent us from improving Reddit, and generally make Reddit worse for everyone else. Our most important policy over the last ten years has been to allow just about anything so long as it does not prevent others from enjoying Reddit for what it is: the best place online to have truly authentic conversations.
This announcement coincides with an update to the Reddit Content Policy, a type of AUP/TOS that describes what topics and behaviors may be posted. Reddit has, against advice of this blog, decided to merge behaviors and content; it makes more sense to separate them, saying for example "no trolling or slurs" and not trying to regulate content itself by topic as harmful, since that includes some content which is legitimate speech, criticism, science, analysis and a necessary part of the discussion.
The new content policy is unfortunately quite ambiguous:
Content is prohibited if it
- Is illegal
- Is involuntary pornography
- Encourages or incites violence
- Threatens, harasses, or bullies or encourages others to do so
- Is personal and confidential information
- Impersonates someone in a misleading or deceptive manner
- Is spam
These types each link to helpful descriptions, like the "encourages or incites violence" portion:
Do not post content that incites harm against people or groups of people.
And the "threatens, harasses or bullies" item:
Harassment on Reddit is defined as systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person conclude that reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation, or fear for their safety or the safety of those around them.
(That one sounds like exactly what /r/SRS and /r/SRD do, but they get a free pass apparently.
The problem with these is that they are vague. How do we know that something "incites" "harm"? Does that mean harm in terms of self-esteem, reputation or public image? Is it inciting harm to cite crime statistics or point out that diversity does not work? Reddit remains silent on those issues because it wants as much power as it can have, and the ability to execute it unevenly. People who go against the dominant paradigm scare away other consumers who are good little sheep.
Even less clear is the idea of "harassment." If someone is a member of a group about whom unflattering facts (crime statistics, and so on) is revealed, are they being harassed? Seeing those facts in print might make them want to "conclude reddit is not a safe platform." What about a study that shows 90% of feminists are over 300 lbs? Or that hipsters tend to die young of AIDS? Reddit stays vague here as well.
Spez clarified that he would not be enforcing these rules against /r/SRS and /r/SRD:
This leaves us out here with the distinct feeling that these rules state two things: one, anything that rocks the boat is bad if it offends Reddit's perceived hivemind opinion; and two, that it will be enforced only on those opinions which do not conform to the majority opinion in the leftist Western nations. Not only is this WEIRD in bias, but it also goes against the very idea of free speech, which is not needed for majority opinions, only for those challengers which rise up and change history by breaking the hive-mind.
Even WIRED magazine chose to make a note of the hypocrisy in their article on the banning of /r/CoonTown:
In response, many Redditors pointed to the subreddit /r/ShitRedditSays -- which highlights seemingly offensive or idiotic statements made by Reddit users out of context. The subreddit has not been banned or quarantined and users claim this shows Reddit's continued hypocrisy and confusion around its simplified content policy.
The Reddit announcement (and spez's clarification) caused jubilation among those who support the majority opinion. Here's a great example from /r/CrackerTown:
Thank you Reddit for the support! We have to show people that hate speech is not free speech and it should be considered assault to use the triggering tactics against PoC that white subs like CoonTown do. This is a huge victory for the internet in general. Keep up the great work, guys!
This is what happens if you take a nonsense approach, but most social media sites take this nonsense approach. An intelligent approach is to target behaviors, not topics. That is: slurs and epithets directed at individuals or groups for perceived traits of those groups are not wanted. That would eliminate the problem of /r/CoonTown and /r/CrackerTown alike. But that is not Reddit's goal.
With yesterday's announcement, Reddit revealed its actual intent: to remove any non-conforming ideas by lumping them together with the badly-behaved people. That bans both criticism of diversity and ethnic slurs under the same rule, which targets topic (minority viewpoint) instead of method (slurs, language, etc.). For now, /r/DarkEnlightenment, /r/WhiteRights and /r/New_Right remain, but it is unclear for how long this will be true.