Dear Reddit, watching you is like seeing an old friend die slowly from cancer
Just last week I had my first Reddit witch hunt against me, which I’m not going to link to it because I really don’t want to bring anymore attention to the troll(s) involved, but the situation did get me thinking about what Reddit has become. Ever since the Great Reddit Revolt of 2015, I’ve been following closely what’s been happening both at Reddit Inc. and on Reddit.com.
I didn’t take the witch hunt personally, but it is literally to the point now where you can’t post legitimate content on Reddit without the moderators either censoring you, or the community questioning your every intention.
Over the past five or six years I’ve been witnessing massive efforts to censor the Internet from Google Search Results, to Facebook (they were one of the first), to Twitter. Reddit was one of the last holdouts where you could actually find uncensored news and conversations online without mainstream narratives dominating headlines, ads masquerading as original content, or politically correct content being shoved down your throat.
Yet things have been changing both on Reddit.com and at Reddit, Inc. over the past several years which have now noticeably escalated into a campaign of global censorship.
I’ve seen entire subreddits and communities that use to be open minded havens of free speech turn into politically correct hive-minds in just the past few months.
I have been talking to many other Redditors about this (mostly off Reddit out of fear of being censored), and the theories range from “the moderators are just getting older, more conservative, power hungry, and grumpier” to full on conspiracy theories.
Then I discovered unreddit over the weekend.
Unreddit is a “service” that works by simply taking any Reddit post URL, and adding the prefix “un” to “reddit.com” like this: https://www.unreddit.com/r/announcements/comments/3tlcil/we_are_updating_our_privacy_policy_effective_jan
This tool lets you see Reddit comments that have been either deleted by the original poster, moderators, or edited by the user. You can do this with any post on Reddit by simply changing the URL to “unreddit.com/”.
Once you start applying this to popular posts on r/politics, r/worldnews, r/announcements and other major subs anyone with eyes and a brain can immediately see significant efforts to censor Reddit comments, many of which are censored for what appears to be seemingly no reason. I’ve spent the weekend unredditing a lot of posts, and many moderators seem to be removing posts simply because they personally disagree with them (a violation of reddiquette), and others clearly have an agenda to censor certain narratives from their subreddits.
Keep in mind this isn’t even content submissions we’re talking about, this is just comments. If this is happening to comments on such a massive scale, one can only imagine what is happening to actual submissions.
At this point it is almost as if the voting system of Reddit has been abandoned on most major subreddits, and a ruling class of moderators have since taken over.
For those of you who don’t use Reddit or understand what I’m talking about, Reddit was a news aggregator where anyone could start their own communities on certain topics as long as they played by the rules of reddiquette and gathered and presented content for others to vote on. Anyone can post content anonymously, as well as comments, and then everyone else can vote on that content either by upvoting or downvoting. Democracy in action.
Yet now voting has become a novelty, votes are being manipulated, and content and comments are being censored to fit politically correct advertiser friendly narratives.
If Reddit was a library, burning everyone’s books wouldn’t be acceptable, so why is it acceptable that Reddit moderators can simply delete whatever they want without any accountability?
So much for Reddit being a democracy.
Conspiracies aside, Reddit is broken.
I was part of the original Digg migration to Reddit just over 9-years ago, and I am a moderator on several major subreddits. As you can imagine, I’ve seen my fair share of crazy Internet antics and migrations over the years. From MySpace to Facebook, Napster to iTunes, and so on.
I’ve run a successful blog in the early 2000’s and attended Steve Jobs keynotes, worked for two of the founders of MySpace at a Youtube/Periscope like startup called LiveVideo.com where I did community management (among other things), ran major social media accounts at Playboy, and built and bootstrapped my own startup and community to over $1 million in revenue then sold it for a successful exit.
I’ve learned a lot from all those experiences, and I see Reddit Inc. making many of the same mistakes I experienced with some of the startups and companies I’ve worked for.
When Reddit admins aren’t ignoring their community, they’re busy subjugating their community, and now they’re likely trying to figure out how to profit from it. However, they’re already doing it wrong, and I seriously fear another Digg v4.0 situation is in the works.
At least they launched Upvoted.com on its own domain.
So how do we fix Reddit?
Reddit needs to build a better community, not just a better product, and focusing on content when you’re already the biggest aggregator of content in the world is a short-sided endeavor to make money that will fail to bring people together. It is not a solution to any of the real problems the Reddit community is facing, it is a pointless get rich quick scheme. They’re essentially selling out the community for money by copying Buzzfeed’s business model, but it is not going to work because Buzzfeed is a few Google search engine or Facebook algorithm updates or ad blockers away from being irrelevant. Reddit is not an original content company, they are a platform for content aggregation. This is not a well-thought out pivot.
When you’re running a website as large as Reddit you simply cannot apply the same kind of engineering logic or capitalistic business logic because those principles don’t apply the same way to managing communities of actual human beings. We’re illogical creatures, and the psychology of the masses can be a scary and frightening thing when managed poorly. Look at what happened to Ellen Pao.
While the separation between the admin team of Reddit and moderators is much needed, a global community of this size likely needs a 3rd check and balance to ensure proper governance between both parties. Right now Reddit Inc. simply does whatever their investors want, and the moderators just have to deal with it, and no one actually represents the people of the community.
Reddit clearly needs another level of governance to protect the will of its communities from a hostile corporate takeover predicated on political correctness, advertising, and propaganda.
Maybe it is time to elect a Reddit Community Leader and actually give them some authority? Or maybe this is why Victoria Taylor was removed?
Whatever the solution is, Reddit needs more governance to protect the will of its users. Someone or a coalition need to actually lead the Reddit community.
What Reddit needs yesterday is more transparency.
The war cry from moderators desiring more moderator tools during the Reddit revolt is absolutely the opposite of what Reddit needs. Reddit has a censorship problem. Building better censorship tools to appease out of control and possibly for sale moderators who just revolted will not build better communities. It will tear them apart. Meanwhile, influencers and content creators like myself and many others will simply continue to leave.
I shouldn’t have to go to unreddit.com to find out if the moderators of a subreddit have the communities best interests at heart. Unreddit should be a feature of Reddit to hold the moderators accountable, and prevent censorship. Imagine a Reddit where the moderators actually have to explain to the people of their communities why they’re moderating a comment or post. Why not have a public a moderation queue? Why hide this from a democratic community in the first place?
Suddenly every moderator will be held accountable for their moderation efforts, and the good ones from the bad ones will become quickly apparent. From there, Reddit needs a better system for electing moderators. It is a widely theorized conspiracy that many Reddit moderators on major subreddits have either been sold to the highest bidder or influenced through money, why isn’t there a system to vote them out?
The same goes for the Reddit admins, although I doubt we’ll ever see that.
At the end of the day, Reddit needs to fix their product, and build tools of accountability that foster transparency, democracy, and equality, not tools of censorship, suppression, and corporate interests.
Censorship is bad for the community.
The fastest way you can kill a community is by censoring people, suppressing their thoughts and ideas, and then selling them out to advertisers and investors. Go ask any former MySpace executive how that worked out for them.
The Internet is a tool for communicating that was supposed to bring us together, not force us into politically correct boxes to be advertised at. Reddit has been the Internet’s last remaining source for actual news, and community but now it is under attack.
Much like MTV during the 80’s, and 90’s, Reddit has a chance to be the voice of a generation. But, much like MTV of late, if they censor their communities for a profit they will share a similar fate.
Reddit could change the world again for the better, but if the almighty dollar has anything to say about it Reddit is already on its on its death march, and refusing treatment.
In the words of Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, “Fix the machine, not the person.”