Reddit Bullying: My Experience With Anonymous Anti-Semitic Cyberabuse, Trolling, Victim-Blaming, and Gaslighting Moderators

— Crossposted from Reddit:

Reddit: a sprawling online community but also the home of much cyberabuse. Photo: Pixabay

For the purpose of posterity and before I request an archive of this account:

Joining Reddit has been an interesting experience.

According to my account panel, my cake day (when the account originated) is on August 19th 2015. Which means that I’ve had this account for more than 5 years. Although I think I only really began actively using Reddit 2 years ago.

In theory, I love the concept of Reddit, which I think explains why I’ve kept using it all this time despite — at so many points — feeling like throwing in the towel on participating in its communities.

It captures the aspects of social media — and social networking — that appeal to me. Namely — group-centric discussion. It largely discards those that do not — like sharing photos of one’s breakfast.

Whether you’re into Turkish coffee or Netflix documentaries or anime — there’s a subreddit for you. In fact, there are over two million of them. That’s pretty powerful.

Unfortunately Reddit also has one outstanding feature that has made me progressively more uncomfortable as time has gone on: Reddit attracts a lot of vicious haters as well as those who — in the words of one Redditor I’ve digitally befriended beyond the platform — show a complete lack of “charity” to those with whom they engage online.

It was an excellent and apt description and one which I can’t better.

Somebody with a total lack of “charity” isn’t quite the same thing as a hater.

It’s just somebody who’s not a very pleasant person at their core but who couldn’t show their true selves “IRL” (internet slang: in real life). Because, when you’re not telling the world who you are, no social consequences attach to being mean.

Somebody who lacks charity consistently assumes the worst intentions of others; is needlessly abrasive when arguing with others; and doesn’t think twice about signalling their hostility. In my experience, this describes plenty of Redditors.

When I first began actively using Reddit, I did so because the anonymity afforded me to open up about a couple of mental health issues at a time when I wasn’t prepared to discuss these openly (for those wondering, I’m talking particularly about ADHD.)

This was a huge growth experience for me and I continue to see the enormous value of anonymity for this reason. I should also note that these communities — in contrast with much of Reddit — are by and large incredibly supportive and filled with kind-hearted individuals rather than those who are mean and toxic.

(Although I should add that I’m increasingly uncertain about the merit of even this use-case compared to speaking to a professional or seeking out non-anonymous but confidentiality-found communities. To the extent that there is a valid use case for anonymous online communities — survivors of abuse who really can’t risk their identity being public , perhaps— I think that it’s a relatively marginal one.)

However, the more time I have spent on Reddit — and the more abuse and harassment I have been subjected to here (and I use those words advisedly; I’m not trying to dramatize things like disagreement) — the more I have come to believe that anonymity is best reserved for things like discussing mental health in an anonymous but supportive and well-moderated environment.

In response to a very dubious infraction — posting from both a public and private account on several threads a single handful of times — I encountered my first Reddit hater.

For this minor offence (perhaps misleading, but not even against Redditor’s terms of service) the Redditor launched into an aggressive tirade by PM. Later, when I tried to make amends again and once more offer an apology, the Redditor labelled me “full of shit,” “a manipulative liar,” a “sociopath” and a “social deviant.” The last message in the tirade included the affirmation “my anger really isn’t about you. It’s about what you represent. You are precisely the type of person I will continue to avoid, online and in real life.”

After I posted this goodbye post to Reddit, a fellow Redditor took up my case, asking whether I had been a victim of cancel culture for feeling so hated that I felt forced to leave the platform.

In response I was accused of being the thread’s poster; called a “sperg” (five upvotes; at the time of writing unmoderated); and was told repeatedly that I was overreacting to some mild disagreement that I should be able to handle.

Tellingly when the thread’s poster — my also anonymous supporter — questioned whether my Judaism could have something to do with the online hate I seemed to attract on the platform the comment was hastily deleted with the stern warning that the sub doesn’t tolerate ridiculous accusations (but I guess accusing somebody of having Asperger’s is fair game).

So here’s what I have to say about Reddit:

If there’s a compelling reason to stay anonymous — anonymity seems to attract the best in people.

If there isn’t — it seems to consistently bring out the worst in them. In some instances, these individuals can become totally unhinged and vicious. And when abuse is cloaked in the cover of anonymity and facilitated by communities that are unprepared to take the dynamic seriously, I personally find it a lot harder to deal with.

Ultimately, Reddit is an online platform. And unless I’m deriving massive value from it that I can’t elsewhere — which I’m not — on the balance of things, I don’t think it’s worth putting up with the type of cyberabuse that Reddit seems to excel in facilitating and which I’ve personally experienced repeatedly.

Sadly, far too many Reddit moderators are unwilling to take abuse to members seriously. In many cases, such moderators even take an active hand in continuing it.

Ironically, despite the negativity of much of my experience there, my time on Reddit has proven the catalyst for some significant personal growth — although it’s a type of growth that has ultimately led me to believe that it’s best that I cease participating on the platform altogether.

I’ve now discussed, through a public Reddit account, most things that I previously posted privately; and I’ve found other fora for those that I cannot discuss in that manner. I am grateful to the platform for that and for the information that I have learned from other Redditors through posting on it.

As the country I live in emerges from lockdown, my overarching goal for this year is to spend more time engaging with real world communities than online ones.

But if the latter, I want to focus on trying to find fora that share Reddit’s ability to create communities around niche topics without the toxicity that unfortunately seems to be the tagalong to the anonymity which it facilitates.

As cheesy as it sounds, my overarching personal development goal for this year is to be more authentic and to surround myself with more positive, supportive, and authentic people. Increasingly, I’ve found that posting on Reddit runs contrary to that objective.

For anybody considering a similar move: I emanate encouragement.

I believe that there is a toxic streak running through Reddit that is far too pervasive and that there is far too much bullying there that goes uncontested and unchecked.

In the absence of an effective system for vetting moderators, and the huge size of the website, I also believe that ensuring a safe online space, conducive to wellness, is likely impossible. At least without some fundamental changes that the platform is probably not primed or willing to facilitate.

It was an interesting learning experience. But I’m ready to move on.

Update the next morning: in reaction thread, accused or faking my own defense, having Asperger’s, “playing the race card” for raising possibility of anti-Semitic motives; also, more abuse

In an interesting an unexpected development, a few hours after I post my goodbye note, a Reddit supporter starts a thread about my decision to leave and the video I posted.

Discussion devolves into claims that I left Reddit because I couldn’t handle criticism when — in fact — I was subject to ad-hominem insults, harassment, and group bullying.

Anonymous haters even suggests that I set up a fake account in order to start the thread supporting my decision to quit:

Another anonymous hater calls me a “Sperg” (a derogatory term for somebody with Asperger’s apparently). Receives 5 upvotes from other haters.

But Reddit moderator “can’t recall the last time someone replied with personal attacks or insults” (later describes ‘Sperg’ ad-hominem as “lighthearted and jovial”).

Elsewhere, comment alleging that the hatred I drew might be due to anti-Semitism is removed by moderation and called a “ridiculous allegation.” (I guess remotely diagnosing Asperger’s is not!?)

My persistent hater describes my previous questioning of another poster that their hatred may be motivated by anti-Semitism as “the racist card.”

Moderator describes my YouTube video calling out Reddit cyberbullying “professional suicide” and hopes that I’ll “think better of it and remove it.”

One more Redditor suggests I’m reacting negatively to abuse because I “pin” some of my personal value on how my Reddit posts are received:

Another Redditor — posting after the “sperg” slur — opines that I’ve simply “been disagreed with” before concluding “and that’s fine”)

Allegation of Anti-Semitism Banned. Same Moderator Then Allows Ad-Hominem “Sperg” (Asperger’s) Slur, Describes It As “Lighthearted and Jovial” and “Not A Personal Attack.”

Reddit moderator opines that Redditor’s “Sperg” slur was “lighthearted and jovial” describes it “not as a personal attack.”

For this Reddit moderator, the “drama” that the thread ensued was “fun”:

In previous interactions, Redditor aggrieved at my previous decision to post from two accounts on the same thread describes me as a “social deviant”

Exchange ends unproductively with more gratuitous insults:

The end to my Redditing career: being called a “jack**s” and “ugly AF”.

More Hate From Anonymous Redditors After Bully Starts Thread About Me On Notorious Hate Subreddit /r/Drama: Working In Thought Leadership Means I “Deserved Bullying Sooner”

Redditor aggrieved at being called out for bullying starts thread in Reddit community for “drama” in order to continue train of abuse:

“Moderators” that divulge the identity of abuse reporters and then themselves join in the abuse:

A Reddit moderator divulges the identity of a harassment report and then contributes a little more to the abuse. Source: /r/drama.

More bullies join in the party — request that I open comments on my YouTube videos highlighting Reddit bullying so that they have more online spaces within which to harass me. Continue with Reddit haters’ favorite ad-hominem insult describing somebody as having Asperger’s (“speging out”).

Update 2: I Got Suspended From Reddit For Reporting My Own Cyberbullying; The Cyberbullies Got A Free Pass And Delighted In My Suspension (Yes, You Read That Right)

The final update in this magnificent piece of the theater of the absurd is as follows.

Shortly after writing this post, I received a warning from Reddit. I was perplexed. I had reported vicious cyberbullies for calling me “f**king pathetic,” a “Sperg,” and various other slurs.

I heard nothing from Reddit. Except this:

In something so strange you almost couldn’t make it up, I was being warned for reporting abuse I received on the notorious hate subreddit /r/drama. The thread in question was started precisely to gang trolls up on me.

The cyberbullies, on the other hand, were free to continue with their harassment, which they naturally delighted in:

Likely explanation: in response to reporting abuse, the trolls reported me for report abuse — and somehow they got away with a warning whereas I got suspended. Report abuse alleging report abuse (phew!) is something that the network should probably look into.

Update: to give Reddit credit, they eventually rescinded the ban:

More Comments

Angry (Anonymous) Reddit Bullies Crowd Onto The Comments Section Here (On Medium) To Continue Abuse And Gaslighting — Throw In Reference To ‘Big Beak’ Nose

Edited to add: predictably, Redditors — angry at being called out on perpetrating and facilitating online abuse — crowd into comments section here to continue their work.

Combination of gaslighting — how dare somebody post about this! — and more (anonymous) abuse…

Followed by a nice anti-Semitic reference to a “big beak”
Yup. Cyberbullying isn’t real.
Classic gaslighting. Those who call out online abuse are just being “sensitive” and a “bubble boy”

A petition I started to encourage Reddit to put more effort into policing harassment was also defaced. The incident happened the day after the Reddit bullying began.

Note: I ultimately decided to stop posting in my hitherto favorite subreddit but to continue posting elsewhere on the network. Reddit is a vast amalgamation of communities and a huge online space with many users, most of whom are not bullies or trolls. Why throw out the good with the bad?

Edited to add:

Because I’m not interested in having more anonymous Redditors swarm into my comments section posting anti-Semitism, I’ve closed the discussion. But anybody that has something nice to say is welcome to get in touch to do so.



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Daniel Rosehill

Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things.