Conducted with a student doing graduate research, this interview with a mod of internet echo chamber Reddit sub /r/sjwhate on the topics of free speech and censorship reveals quite a bit about the new defenders of free speech:
How would you describe the Reddit ‘community’?
I do not think there is one. There are people using an internet site, and other than that, they have very little in common.
How would you describe a ‘Redditor’?
The average person drawn here is nerdly enough to not trust mainstream social media like Facebook, probably a bit under-confident, usually inexperienced in life and working a low-paying job.
How do you picture a typical ‘Redditor’ in real life?
The guy who makes your sandwiches or maintains the Facebook page for a local non-profit: doughy, nerdy, avoids eye contact, probably ineffective in real life.
Do you actively contribute to any of these subreddits? Do you feel like a ‘member’ of any?
How can one feel like a 'member' of any 'community' where there is no necessity of contribution? Reddit is like day-time television: the people here are looking for an easy way to participate, and to get internet points, not a way to contribute. I feel like a 'member' in the subs where I am a moderator and trying to provide content for a specific audience, but for Reddit as a whole? haha no.
Do you feel that your subreddit has an oppositional subreddit/enemy subreddit/do you ever feel threatened or attacked (directly or indirectly) by certain subreddits, users, etc?
The admins here have given a Get Out of Jail Free card to liberal brigade subs like /r/AgainstHateSubreddits and /r/ShitRedditSays. I view them as vandals, scared kids who are panicked by anything which does not affirm their personal agenda, more than enemies, but they behave like enemies.
Do you ‘hate-follow’ any subreddits?
No. I view participation in such subs as endorsement.
Do you follow any subreddits that you would never comment on?
There are some I cannot comment in because the comments are immediately mass-downvoted, which means that I am subject to the sub's anti-spam filter. Like in /r/antiwork, most people are hostile to anyone who is not a liberal/leftist.
If you’re a moderator of a subreddit, could you explain a bit about what you do in your role, especially things that people new to Reddit/ who aren’t moderators wouldn’t know about?
Moderator is a cross between discussion leader and janitor. I remove spam, abuse, stupidity and worthless non-contribution "contributions." What most people do not see is the behind-the-scenes interaction with users, many of whom come to us for advice on how to improve their participation.
In your opinion, what are the worst subreddits? Why are they the worst?
Worst by quality are the ideological subs and the vote brigades. There, it is truly a hugbox or echo chamber dedicated to groupthink and witch hunting. The best subs are the ones which are dedicated to normal life activities, like funny memes, pictures, etc.
Which groups of people are most attacked on Reddit? Do you think this is fair/warranted?
Conservatives and no, of course it is not; it is biased. They are attacked for not conforming to what the hive-mind wants to hear. Because its appeal is ideological, and not realistic, its members are threatened by any differing opinions.
What do you think about the recent algorithm changes to r/all?
They were designed to keep conservative content from the front page in response to the Donald Trump campaign.
How truthful do you think people are on Reddit?
Not very. In fact, over time, I have learned that I am rarely wrong when I expect people to be lying. Some of this is harmless: they are obfuscating their identities. But a lot of it is quite malicious. Users who actively contribute tend to be less likely to do this, in my opinion.
Do you think people say things on Reddit they wouldn’t say in real life?
People say things on the internet that they would not say in real life, and because Reddit is both anonymous and based on throw-away accounts (i.e. user history is not important) they are even more inclined to lie or say outrageous stuff. If you imagine Reddit as a hate mob of drunk teenage NEETs with chips on their shoulders and a history of personal failure, that is probably close to accurate.
Do you think some people use Reddit as an outlet for aspects of their personality they feel they can’t express in their ‘real’ lives?
Absolutely. Just visit the fetish subs. Also, I think younger people use it as a chance to "try on" different identities and subcultures without actually risking themselves. Then there's /r/gonewild...
Do you think that pretending to be someone else or acting differently than you normally would in real life on Reddit can be beneficial?
In that I would not trust these people as far as I could throw the Reddit server farm, yes, it is advantageous.
I can also see therapeutic/maturation reasons for doing this. For example, if you have questions about your sexual identity, try being gay online for a few days.
How would you define free speech?
I use the originalist interpretation of the First Amendment: political, philosophical and social commentary -- genuine information and not emotional gestures -- should be welcome regardless of its conclusions. This means that I believe it needs to be expressed in a certain form, more like that required for formal academic papers or formal letters, than that its content should determine whether or not it is accepted.
What do you think Reddit’s relationship with free speech is like?
Extremely complicated. In general, the site does a good job of supporting it on day-to-day comments. Some subs are obviously entirely abusive and the admins refuse to step in there, which is a decision I agree with. Its protection of anonymity is usually good, although admins have stopped removing comments where people are outed, which is a bad move I think.
How would define offensive speech?
That is a nonsense term. There is speech in an offensive form, like someone writing FUCK YOU on his jacket and then going into a church or courtroom. But no content that is well-expressed and plausibly true should be offensive. The offensive speech meme was created to suppress certain realist speech and for no other reason.
What do you think Reddit’s relationship with offensive speech is like?
A mob of panicked monkeys downvoting anything that threatens their worldview.
Look at admin support of brigade subs.
How would you define hate speech?
Another nonsense term. Speech that is tolerated should take a certain form, so writing a letter about how African-Americans commit a lot of crime is different than screaming racial epithets at someone. But hate speech does not exist. This is another term designed to filter out dissenting opinion, which paradoxically drives people into anger, from which comes the really nasty stuff.
What do you think Reddit’s relationship with hate speech is like?
Reddit uses "hate speech" as a pretext to remove certain subs.
Do you agree with banning subreddits?
No, because ultimately it creates a worse counter-reaction. I was not a fan of /r/niggers and did not really think much either way about /r/fatepeoplehate, but banning them only radicalized the audience.
Do you think that some remaining subreddits should be banned?
No, and I think Reddit should stop pretending it does anything about brigades, which would remove the legitimacy of those subs which are a blight on Reddit.
What would make a subreddit or comment worthy of being banned or deleted? What limits/ parameters would you set?
I guess I can see deleting /r/GetYourFreeChildPornHere or something like that, simply because the name encourages a specific crime.
Do you think that things that people write on Reddit could cause harm to others?
Outing people, especially those with controversial opinions, is a definite form of harm. I try to talk about ideas and not people; while I think it is the responsibility of the person to regulate their response to what is said about them, bullying and cruelty can cause a lot of damage to younger users who are not yet familiar with how vile and evil the world can be.
Who do you think is most likely to be harmed by content on Reddit?
Summary: people who are outed, and younger people. I might add that the worst blight I have seen on the internet is revenge porn, where people post nudes sent to them by their exes. While it is really stupid to send digital nudes to anyone, it is also really horrible to then use that to destroy someone's life or reputation.
Do you think some people enjoy harming others on the Internet?
Let me dial that back: do I think that some people enjoy harming others? Yes, especially when they can get away with it by using social rules, like "this person is a witch or kulak, so torturing them to death is the right thing to do."
On the internet, it is just easier to do and anonymity protects the person doing it.
Do you think they would act the same in real life?
I think they would find another method, like gossip.
Would you happily show your grandparents (or other similar figure) what you write on Reddit?
Yes, I think what I write here represents me very well. Then again, I hide my political leanings from most of them because they are liberals or neoconservatives.
Anything else I should know if I’m trying to get an understanding of free speech, offensive speech or hate speech on Reddit?
There are two ways to regulate speech, by form and by content.
Form means the way it is expressed. Do you write a short editorial on why white people are bad for America, or do you shout FUCK CRACKERS and encourage others to throw rocks?
Content means what is being communicated. I find censorship of this in any form to be evil, counter-productive, unrealistic and ultimately suicidal. Society depends on the free expression of relevant ideas, provided that they are in a useful form and not epithets, spam, etc.