Reddit took its first baby steps toward cutting down on harassment this week, banning five small subreddits built on personal attacks. That should have been a fairly uncontroversial move, but this is Reddit—and the admins’ good intentions have inevitably paved the road to a insane, sexist, Nazi-themed tantrum taking over the site’s top posts.
A mob of vocal users has taken up the cause of the banned fat-shaming community, r/fatpeoplehate, creating backup forums for mocking fat people faster than Reddit can take them down. Although you won’t see these posts on Reddit’s front page (which only features a select group of default subreddits) they’re currently dominating r/all—the list of the most popular posts on the site.
Users angry that the site has begun enforcing its harassment policy are also calling for Reddit’s interim CEO, Ellen Pao, to be fired. They’ve created a number of subreddits dedicated to the campaign, and they’re planning to boycott reddit’s paid premium features, Reddit Gold, until she’s removed.
Since Pao, best known for a high-profile sex discrimination suit against powerful Silicon Valley investment firm Kleiner Perkins, took the position at Reddit, she’s been blamed for every unpopular decision the company has made (like the harassment policy) and some that it hasn’t (see, e.g., the conspiracy theory that Reddit promotes liberal “Social Justice Warrior” viewpoints and censors conservative “Redpill” ones).
She’s even been accused of conspiring with investor Marc Andreesen to “clean up” Reddit so he can sell it to Facebook and make... one billion dollars. (This is crazy. Andreesen Horowitz was just one of several investors in Reddit’s $50 million round of funding last year, which valued the company at $500 million, not a billion dollars.)
Many FatPeopleHate supporters are giving up on Reddit altogether, abandoning it for the unregulated wilds of Voat.co, which apparently doesn’t have enough servers to keep up with the exodus of people incensed that the awful Nazis at Reddit won’t let them make fun of fatties.
Whenever Redditors make the site look bad to the outside world by defending things like racism, harassment, and “jailbait” pics as part and parcel of their cool libertarian internet utopia, someone inevitably puts forth this defense: a small, angry group doesn’t speak for all of Reddit’s 3 million-plus users, and dismissing the site as a whole is just throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Unfortunately for the people tasked with running Reddit as a business, this is what the baby looks like today. (The baby really hates fat people.)
And it could get worse before it gets better. The best thing about Reddit—how easy it is to create a community around absolutely any topic or viewpoint—is also what makes it virtually impossible to police from the top down. If some Redditors are determined to attack particular groups (whether it’s women, black people, or the overweight) the company is powerless to stop them without breaking the system altogether.
There’s no way to take the trolling out of Reddit, because trolling is what attracts many people to Reddit in the first place.