Why I (Still) Haven’t Left Reddit
Despite receiving a litany of harassment and abuse which went unchecked, I haven’t stopped posting in one of the internet’s most controversial social communities
Earlier this year, I received an unexpected spate of harassment and bullying on the popular social network known as Reddit.
Why I’m Stopping Posting on Reddit
Reddit has a serious problem with cyberabuse. While I’ve posted about its merits, I’m sick of being a punching bag for…
I watched with surprise and disappointment as an anonymous internet troll called me “ugly AF” and told me — while denying having anything against Jews of course — to get my “big beak” off the network post-haste.
There were dozens more comments all in a similar vein — attacking my appearance, the size of my nose, leveling a low-life slur to denigrate Asperger’s patients towards me, and generally berating whatever I posted.
Entire threads have been started about me in hate communities so toxic that even Reddit has banned them from its site. Although the abuse itself sprouted forth from a community that most people would have considered innocuous.
The trolls proved oddly relentless in their quest to inform me that they found the size of my nose or my appearance distasteful. They followed me here to Medium to continue leaving the abuse as comments; defaced petitions I created on Change.org with more bullying; and sent repeated emails to my any website I operated with …. yet more bullying.
When it kicked off, I announced my intention to leave the network as soon as I could give myself a bit of mental space to move on from the abuse. But three months later and I’m still an active and typically daily participant, although I’ve stubbornly refused to set digital foot back in the community from which the abuse first sprung.
I Realized It’s Impossible To Effectively Police Any Large Online Space
Truth be told, I was less angry at my bullies — there are bigots and hateful people everywhere and nothing is going to change that — and more angry at Reddit itself..
How could such a colossal name in tech be so unwilling to take abuse seriously? Wasn’t Reddit like … getting ready to IPO!? (Yes, it is; and its frequent failure to adequately tackle abuse has frequently come up in the conversation surrounding that plan).
I would describe my decision to cut Reddit some mental slack as less about forgiving the network and more about understanding the obstacles in faces in ensuring adequate moderation.
Consider for instance the fact that:
- There are more than 2.8 million subreddits on the network. Each subreddit is its own discussion forum, typically on somewhat niche subjects. Moreover (to the best of my knowledge) all these subreddits are managed by unpaid moderators who clearly lack a financial incentive to do an excellent or even uniform job at stamping out hate on their communities.
- To the best of my knowledge, nobody knows exactly how many admins Reddit keeps on staff — those are the full-time paid Reddit employees that form the official moderation structure above ‘mods’ — but the number is believed to be south of 500. You do the math. If both of those estimates are accurate, each Reddit admin would be responsible for overseeing the activity of 7,000 subreddits each. And remember — each subreddit is its own online community with potentially tens of thousands of participants and dozens of daily message threads.
The above led me to conclude that:
- Reddit likely can’t do a good job at stamping out hate even if it wanted to. Even with the help of AI — or the automod filters that are popular in cleaning up much of the most egregious garbage on subs — there are just way too many users and way too much activity and far too few full-time staff members focused on keeping the network ‘clean’.
- In light of that dynamic, Reddit likely has to focus its intention on the most egregious and damaging communities and offenders. While I might have felt slighted and hurt by an anonymous internet randomer berating my appearance, it’s hardly likely to be top of their agenda. A far right wing community seeking to coalesce support for conspiracy theories about the pandemic? That’s potentially far more damaging — at least to Reddit itself.
Learning To Accept An Internet Tainted By Hate
Reddit — or any large social network–currently all fall prey to roughly this same set of dynamics.
They’re simply too gargantuan to be well-policed. And so — like a banana republic unserved by law enforcement — they can be expected to devolve, at best, to mostly safe spaces with a fringe edge.
Reddit is unique among major social networks in that the vast majority of users posts from pseudonymous accounts. In the absence of social consequences for their actions, Redditors can get away with being meaner and nastier than their identified counterparts on Facebook.
We may all aspire to live our digital lives in an internet that isn’t tainted by cyberbullying and harassment. But for the moment we have to accept the fact that that vision simply isn’t likely a realistic one.
Reddit’s A Unique Animal That Does One Thing — Niche Discussion — Very Well
Reflecting on my own experience using Reddit also helped to put the strange period of abuse I experienced in perspective.
The vast majority of interactions I have had on Reddit have been positive.
While I’m unlikely to win any awards for optimism any time soon, I’d like to think that this is a reflection of the fact (or at least what I believe to be fact) that most people mean well.
Reddit’s bewildering mass of niche communities has led to the creation of some excellent fora for discussing niche topics. Oddly, it’s often these more niche subreddits that are appreciative of the network’s existence and less tolerant of the kind of abuse that’s liable to drive many users off the network before they’ve had a chance to see what can be good about it.
We live, for the moment, in an internet that’s mushroomed at a quicker pace than we — as societies — have been able to devise systems to regulate it.
This dynamic can be seen no more clearly than in the realm of social networks.
While these gargantuan communities may have quickly become embedded into the fabric of our daily lives, many of them are already far too large to be properly policed by humans.
Reddit — with its anonymity and user-base that dwarfs its staff — provides a great case in point here.
Failing the development of more effective means to solve this problem, this may leads to us having to simply find other ways of dealing with online harassment and abuse that are unfortunately more reactive in nature than we’d like:
Focusing on providing education and support for those who have suffered the damaging effects of cyberbullying would be a good place to start.