Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Read It? On The Troubles of Reddit.

All I know about Reddit is that when I get "visitors" from some of their sewage sites I have to put the comments on full moderation.  Keep that in mind when thinking about my possible bias in this post, which is about those sewage sites on Reddit.

Reddit is a BIIIG site, with many sub-groups, and so its problems get big attention.  The most recent round began with the resignation of the temporary CEO, Ellen Pao.  What matters for my purposes is not whether Pao was a good CEO or the devil incarnate who fired a popular employee for having cancer, or why Reddit's chief engineer, Bethanye McKinney Blount, also resigned.

Corporations fire people and people resign, for all sorts of reasons, some of them good and some of them horrible, though it's worth quoting that:

Blount is the third major female executive the company has lost and her departure underscores the trouble Reddit is facing in turning its forums into a business.
  It's the way the Pao resignation was achieved that I want to discuss:

Ellen Pao became a hero to many when she took on the entrenched sexist culture of Silicon Valley. But sentiment is a fickle thing, and late Friday the entrepreneur fell victim to a shrill crowd demanding her ouster as chief executive of the popular social media site Reddit.
Ms. Pao’s abrupt downfall in the face of a torrent of sexist and racist attacks, many of them on Reddit itself, is likely to renew charges that bullying, harrassment and ugly behavior are out of control on the web...

Bolds are mine.

It's not the attacks against Ms. Pao that I mind, it's the sexist and racist nature of them.  And Reddit seems to be the home-hive for quite a few sexists and racists.

Indeed, one study tried to capture the smell of sewage at Reddit*:

How could you count the bad things on Reddit any more than you could count bumps on a toad or granules in a dune? Idibon, a company that makes language-processing software, took on this suicidal task. To calculate toxicity—which they're defining as overt bigotry and ad hominem attacks—Idibon pulled thousands of Reddit posts, checking to see which had been upvoted or downvoted. Did a particular subreddit upvote a racist attack? That's toxic! Was a nice or supportive sentiment upvoted? That's nontoxic.
The full tally will probably not surprise you. At the number one Most Toxic Place on Reddit stands /r/TheRedPill, which describes itself as a "discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men." A message board used exclusively for misogyny and male whining is of course deeply toxic. Next up is /r/OpieAndAnthony, devoted to the racist radio show for dipshits. Again, not shocking. Other top slots include /r/BlackPeopleTwitter (as racist as it sounds!) and /r/4chan—along with some surprisingly normal subreddits like /r/Videos, /r/News, and /r/Gaming. It's a given that /r/NaziShitWhoreWatch will be a toxic spot to browse, but when even the innocuous general discussion sections are filled with abuse, that tells us all we need to know about the internet's premiere link swamp.

I haven't checked the study itself, but you should keep in mind that the size of those subreddits does matter.  If most subreddits are fairly decent places, then the toxicity of Reddit overall is less than you might think. 

Isn't it fascinating, though,  that the most toxic subreddit is about us wimminfolk and how horrible we are?

How does one defend the existence of such subreddits?  Freedom of expression, of course!  But one of the founders of Reddit had interesting sarcastic stuff to say about that:

The free speech policy was something I formalized because it seemed like the wiser course at the time. It’s worth stating that in that era, we were talking about whether it was ok for people to post creepy pictures of women taken legally in public. That’s shitty, but it’s a far cry from the extremes of hate that some parts of the site host today. It seemed that allowing creepers to post (anonymized) pictures of women taken in public, in a relatively small subreddit that never showed up on the front page, was a small price to pay for making it clear that we were a place welcoming of all opinions and discourse.
Having made that decision - much of reddit’s current condition is on me. I didn’t anticipate what (some) redditors would decide to do with freedom. reddit has become a lot bigger - yes, a lot better - AND a lot worse. I have to take responsibility.

Who reads Reddit?  It's hard to know, but young men (18-29) appear to be the most active group. One survey argues that 74% of the readers of Reddit are male.**

If that figure is correct, is it that women are reluctant/scared*** to participate on sites where something like the Red Pill is allowed?  Or that more men, especially young men, are drawn to Reddit by the presence of such sites?  Or is this all about some more fundamental difference in the interests of men and women?  (I should notice here that they way I was introduced to certain subreddits, via nasty trolls, made me hundred percent sure that I'd never read there unless the other option was to never eat again.  So yes, in my case this IS about fundamental interest differences, but they are certainly not inborn.)

Taking a step back, one might say that what I describe in this post looks like a brother to the Gamergate.  On one level people debate journalistic integrity (Gamergate) or freedom of expression and how to get rid of awful bosses (Reddit), on another level at least a small minority of people debate the proper place of women and/or minorities, the right to hate openly, the right to exclude women from men's tree houses and other similar topics.

* More on the "controversial" subreddits can be found here.
**I haven't found anything more about those numbers.  They could be valid or not.
***From the Vox article (which is about the banning of a subreddit called Fat People Hate:

Reddit's interim CEO, Ellen Pao, invoked the site's new anti-harassment policy in explaining the decision to ban FPH. The policy, which was first announced in May, represents an attempt to make Reddit a more welcoming place. Reddit's harsh and unforgiving tendencies have often been mentioned in the press, and the site has gained a reputation for not being a particularly welcoming place for women. FPH was seen by many as one area of Reddit that needed to be eliminated for the overall good of the site.