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Reddit Held Hostage By the Worst of Its Userbase By Capitulating to Its Worst Community

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I’m a proponent of free speech and authentic conversation. I cannot legally stop anyone from saying whatever it is they want to say, nor would I want to. That said, if I invite you into my apartment, and you start hurting my other guests, tearing up my living room, or generally being an asshole, I’m kicking you the fuck out of my house. If only Reddit took disrespecting their home as seriously.

In a a fascinating, and disheartening article over at Gizmodo, Bryan Menegus writes about the Reddit community “The_Donald,” and how it might soon be responsible for Reddit’s downfall.

The_Donald is a community devoted to, you guessed it, supporters of Donald Trump, and it has quickly (and unsurprisingly) become not only one of the most hate-filled corners of the Internet, but also one of the most actively abusive and least free. “No Dissenters or SJWs” is one of the community’s posted rules, which makes clear that they have no interest in actual, two-way “conversation,” despite Reddit’s stated intentions. A default mod told Gizmodo:

“r/The_Donald mods have set their subreddit up as a safe space. One where dissent or questioning is not tolerated. You either follow or you are banned. That rule does not apply if you make a statement on Reddit elsewhere. The brigade will both downvote, doxx, and go after those who do post something that is against the r/The_Donald hivemind.”

What’s frustrating is that, despite The_Donald’s flagrant disregard for Reddit’s own rules, other Reddit community members, or even Reddit leadership, Reddit continues to coddle the community, nurturing a close relationship with The_Donald’s moderators. Gizmodo reports:

“There have been multiple iterations of the_donald,” a Reddit spokesperson, who did not wish to be identified by name, told Gizmodo in a phone call. (CEO Steve Huffman previously said that The_Donald’s team of top mods had turned over at least four times over the year.) “The [moderator teams] that I’ve been involved with for the last six months or so, we’ve actually had a very close working relationship with. We share a Discord channel with them—their private chat. It’s been highly responsive when we need to ask them to take things down that are probably rule violations,” Reddit contended. (The moderation team of r/The_Donald did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

If Centipede Central is the chat Reddit is referring to—a chat room within the Slack-like Discord program, the one linked in the sidebar of The_Donald and one of the largest servers on Discord—its users have encouraged the harassment of other moderators, artificially inflated the vote count on posts, rigged off-Reddit polls, and posted John Podesta’s personal Netflix login information for the chat’s 1000+ members to use at will.

Reddit’s approach to “conversation” a hands-off free-for-all is not the one we need right now. Dialogue is great, but dialogue quickly becomes monologue when you allow one side to dominate. This type of domination could spell the end for Reddit as we know it.

The thing is, I understand on some level the fear behind their laissez faire approach. First, The_Donald is one of Reddit’s most popular and active subreddits, which brings in loads of advertising revenue. So, if you value making money over basic human decency, then yeah, this approach makes sense. However, this is about something else, too. Something that makes me feel (only) slightly sorry for the Reddit higher-ups.

This is a group millions strong, and they have targeted Reddit CEOs and other employees before. I would understand Reddit being legitimately afraid of these users and what they would do if they were outright banned. But what’s worse: dealing with harassment, or constantly living in fear while running a site that allows for the harassment of millions, the running of which doesn’t save you from the possibility of being harassed yourself at any time?

Reddit could very easily suspend The_Donald as a community and ban all its members, but it won’t out of fear. Fear of losing money. Fear for personal safety. And in the end, the loudest douchebags win.

I’ll admit, I’ve never understood the appeal of Reddit. After all, I hate the fact that Facebook’s algorithm limits what I see based on what those in my network deem is important, why would I want to visit a community that lives and dies by upvoting? Still, I know plenty of kind internet denizens who love the community that Reddit creates for them. However, even they know the cost of that community. After all, a 2015 Reddit User Poll found that “The number one reason redditors do not recommend the site—even though they use it themselves—is because they want to avoid exposing friends to hate and offensive content.”

What kind of business is okay with customers not feeling comfortable enough to recommend their service to their friends?

There will always be hateful, horrible people in the world. No one can control that. What we can control is how we respond to that hate. Do we allow it to infect our lives, because Oh well, that’s just how it is? Or do we sideline those who would use their freedom of speech to abuse others and kick them the fuck out of our houses? Now is the time to grow a spine, Reddit. You’re gonna need one over the next four years.

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Image of Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.