Reddit somehow maintains its reputation in the widespread public perception for being a “good” forum/social media website, despite a seemingly endless slew of controversies and censorship. The truth is, it’s as bad as more notorious sites like 4Chan, and maybe even worse.
Founded in 2005 by a pair of college roommates, Reddit was created to be “the front page of the internet” where users (known colloquially as “redditors”) could share and view text posts, images, and links about anything and everything. Over time, the site evolved to become more organized and accessible than the typical general imageboard that it started as, with an update in 2008 that gave users the ability to create communities (known as “subreddits”) dedicated to anything, no matter how niche or mainstream. It allowed users to make the site whatever they wanted it to be, arguably allowing it to maintain relevance almost 20 years later.
As of today, Reddit is a far cry from what it was intended to be all those years ago. In 2011, it was lauded for “[having] always maintained an idealistic notion of absolute free-speech” with “its creators and staff [seeing] it as a free and open platform, where the proliferation of (legal) content is left to the will of its users.” If only users back then could see what it has become.
The Bad Outshines the Good
Looking at Reddit’s Wikipedia page, the company’s slew of controversies began around 2013, although in 2011, the site was reportedly allowing subreddits dedicated to sharing pictures of underage girls, such as “r/jailbait” and “r/preteen_girls.” It took months of controversy around the former and the emergence of the latter for site admins to take action around removing these subreddits and changing their policy to ban “suggestive or sexual content featuring minors.”
Such action seems a bit too little, too late. Why was the creation of those subreddits allowed in the first place? Why did it take so long for Reddit to take action?
A site that values free, legal speech should moderate to make sure that illegal or potentially illegal content never emerges. Their actions are all the more laughable (in an exhausted way, mind you, none of this is actually funny) since in just 2021, the site was facing lawsuits from a woman who was having underage revenge porn of her posted on the site by an abusive ex from when she was 16, and Reddit was leaving her to do the work of searching for it to report it and request its removal. From this controversy alone it seems they don’t care, and whatever actions they take to make it seem like they do appear to be nothing but a vapid virtue-signal.
An in-depth exploration of all of Reddit’s other controversies could fill a book or two, but at a high level, many of these controversies have damaged society at large. Reddit’s failure to protect the platform against illegal and exploitative content spurred users to support sentiments that would all but encourage the erosion of any free speech that could be deemed offensive, as demonstrated by one statement: “Freedom of speech is a good thing, common sense, tact and dignity is even better.”
An in-depth exploration of all of Reddit’s controversies could fill a book or two.
Before you make any claims of overreaction, Reddit’s Wikipedia “Controversies” section details just under 30 major controversies (by no means is that all of them, though). About eight of those were related to users or site administrators making a call to action to ban some form of “hate speech,” a concept that’s even more subjective than others like beauty or ugliness.
A few additional controversies overlap between the “hate speech” category and “political protections” category (i.e. anything intended to “protect democracy” or “curb hate speech” and “misinformation”), making it so that slightly more than half the controversies were spurred on by either hate speech prevention or because people with supposedly better judgment about the world and culture (a.k.a. “common sense”) knew best.
Aside from damaging free speech and proliferating censorship to an insane degree (some of it was even due to the CEO feeling personally victimized), Reddit has also caused real-life damages towards innocent people.
In one particularly notorious case, Redditors insisted they knew the identity of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bomber to be that of a young man, Sunil Tripathi, who had gone missing shortly before the marathon, to the point where they instigated a barrage of verbal abuse and harassment on Sunil’s family who were trying to locate him. The true perpetrators were eventually caught, and it came to light that Sunil had taken his own life before the bombing. On top of losing a son and brother, Sunil’s family had to deal with horrible defamation and abuse from terminally-online internet users.
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Although it’s not like Reddit is routinely trending for its controversies like KiwiFarms or 4Chan regularly does, it continues to break its own record for being abhorrent.
If free speech somehow isn’t important to you, the site has actively been defending people connected to criminals and quietly trying to allow them into positions of power at the company, either as site administrators or as subreddit moderators. One of the more recent controversies involves Reddit hiring trans woman Aimee Challenor (now Aimee Knight) in 2021 as a site administrator. Aimee was previously an electoral candidate for the British Green Party, and was suspended from the party for not just one, but two associations with pedophiles.
The first was his father and campaign manager, David Challenor, who was convicted for the torture and rape of a 10-year-old girl. David Challenor reportedly “dressed as a little girl called Lucy while he strung the child from a beam, electrocuted and raped her in the small Coventry home in which Aimee also lived.”
The second was his fiancé, Nathaniel Knight, who wrote on his public Twitter account, “I fantasise about children having sex, sometimes with adults, sometimes with other children, sometimes kidnapped and forced into bad situations.”
One moderator of a UK politics subreddit shared an article going over the controversy surrounding Aimee Challenor within the Green Party, and their post was promptly removed and the user was banned. This, however, caused a Streisand Effect and redditors across the site began sharing links and information around Aimee Challenor. Hundreds of subreddits also set themselves to private, rendering the site’s most popular spaces useless to new and non-registered users.
Reddit has been defending people connected to criminals and hiring them for positions of power.
It wasn’t until then that Reddit removed Challenor from the admin position and wrote an apology. But what if other users took no action toward sharing information about Challenor’s horrific associations and apparent blasé attitude toward pedophilia and child rape and torture? Would Reddit have done anything then? It seriously begs the question: Did they only act because so many people took action against it and rendered large portions of the site useless to new users and non-users?
Even if you give them the benefit of the doubt in this case (keep in mind, this happened in 2021), further evidence is stacked against Reddit. Just this year, they banned the word “groomer,” referring of course, to adults who gain the trust of minors with the intention of influencing them to be okay with sexual or otherwise inappropriate situations or discussions. While certainly not all LGBTQ people are groomers, many groomers are using that categorization as a shield for their vile actions. And now, Reddit happily enables that.
Furthermore, they don’t actually care about the people they say they’re trying to protect. In the current age, it’s all the rage to be pro-woman and a feminist, but Reddit is practically spearheading the removal of women’s online spaces. So much so, that alternatives have been created, such as Ovarit. If you scroll through threads like these, you’ll see moderators reliably remove opinions of women who dare say maybe the trans movement is bringing up some problems for previously women-only spaces and activities. Sounds like they think the ladies doth protest too much.
Meanwhile, grown adults are able to advise minors on how to get hormone therapy without their parent’s knowledge. Therein lies their priorities, it seems.
Reddit has undoubtedly taken off since it was created in 2005. It reportedly ranks #9 on the list of most visited websites in the world at the time of writing (despite being banned or restricted in some countries) and #7 on the list of most visited websites in the U.S.
How could a site so horrible be so successful? As bad as it is, many people use it without being aware of how seedy the site administration has been in the both distant and recent past. You can share memes, pictures of kittens and puppies, interior design inspiration, food pictures, and all sorts of things. It’s hard to convince someone who uses it for only wholesome purposes that Reddit is deserving of scorn.
It’s arguably worse than 4Chan or KiwiFarms because it’s covert with its bad behavior and the harm it causes and the damages it doesn’t care about. At least on 4Chan and KiwiFarms you know you’re getting into edgy and verbally-abusive-at-times content, but neither are trying to pretend to be the arbiters of goodness in the way that Reddit seems to with all its vapid policies that they themselves don’t respect.
However frustrating it is to see, it seems as though others are acknowledging the hypocrisy and underhanded bad behavior – hence the creation of alternatives. While it’s gross to see what Reddit has done and what it’s become, I don’t advocate for it to be removed – only for the truth to be preserved so that others can see how bad it truly is and come to their own conclusions.
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