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Reddit's Banhammer Crackdown

Technology article by Anthony Lee on June 11, 2015 at 4:16 PM

Censorship is a tricky subject. On one hand, there are some heinous things we're exposed to on a daily basis that we wish we weren't. On the other, it's kind of the selling point of a free country.  However, people mistake free speech given to them via the government for what others are allowed to do privately.

CEO Ellen Pao of popular social media site Reddit seems to have more up her sleeve after a failed gender discrimination lawsuit. After new anti-harassment terms have been laid down, subreddits have mysteriously vanished. Of the subreddits that have been banned, /r/fatpeoplehate was among the largest. For those readers unfamiliar with what a subreddit is, think of them like mini communities.


One might think that we're better off without bile aimed solely at a targeted group, but something doesn't sit well with me.

subreddit ban


"To keep everyone safe"; something about that wording comes off as disingenuous. Perhaps it's my personal experiences of dealing with my weight since I was a kid, but there is not an ounce of comfort to be found in that statement. How could there be comfort without a threat? Posting personal info to jeopardize someone offline is a real problem that Reddit is against, though something doesn't feel so cut and dry in this situation. The gist of Reddit's recent crackdown comes off as people saying things other people don't agree with on the Internet. A bully saying things to your face will have a far greater impact than someone talking smack online. The latter is easily avoidable by not even visiting where the hate is concentrated. This culture of purposely going out of your way to be offended is a dangerous one.

Want proof trigger happy shock culture is getting out of hand? A 2+ year old subreddit dedicated to whale watching has found itself under the scrutiny. Why? According to some Redditors, while there were a few posts mocking overweight people, the majority of that subreddit was dedicated to actual whale watching. The subreddit /r/whalewatching is currently set to private, assuming this was done to keep ex members of /r/fatpeoplehate from turning it into a clone. Either that or Reddit's system is incredibly flawed. You readers can come to your own conclusion on that one.


UPDATE: A Reddit mod has since realized their mistake regarding the board /r/whalewatching and has given the following statement:

That was actually my bad. I accidentally banned the subreddit.

I thought it was just a FPH clone. One of their mods got onto me and I unbanned it.

While there has been some posts from the FPH fallout, I can see it predated that and was legitimated used to post whale pictures.

Sorry about that.

Yes, content in question could be considered negative and even repulsive to many. With the multitude of subreddits out there, it's a bit odd how many obvious objectionable ones still stand. What makes removal of a subreddit dangerous is the selective choosing of what gets to stay and what has to go. At this point, it no longer becomes an issue of anti harassment and more blanket silencing. Simply put, when you remove questionable material while leaving a bunch behind unchecked, it kills credibility.

Admittingly, I'm not a big fan of Reddit nor could I really give any insight of the kinds of conversations that went down in a subreddit called /r/fatpeoplehate. An article from Breitbart suggests that regular users used that subreddit as a form of motivation to get fit. While I can not confirm, I wouldn't be surprised if the regular activities were as blunt as the name of the subreddit itself.

In any case, the concept of a safe place is unrealistic. Not to say that gives others a free pass to be cruel, it's more so that there will always be someone outraged by something even if anger was never the intent. Pao's reasoning may be to protect others from feeling uncomfortable on the site she's head of, but you can't protect everyone. Going back to the largest subreddit targeted for banning, I didn't even know /r/fatpeoplehate existed till spotting the tag #redditrevolt on my Twitter feed. Ah, yes. Streisand effect is in full swing. Pao might not have wanted such things on her site for good reason, the fact more divisive communities remain is a bit concerning. Either purge all the abhorrent communities or leave them be. This selective culling results in more trouble than it resolves

Speaking of the Streisand effect, /r/punchablefaces is a clear indicator that there are Redditors who are displeased with how events are being handled. This keeps going on, really.


Pao rpunchablefaces

Ultimately, what a business does is their own decision, they are exercising their rights just as you wish to exercise yours. This goes especially so if the business in question is private. In a capitalist society, to the victor goes the spoils. With all this outrage, alternate sites such as may be picking up any of the stray traffic. Communities being dropped that were deliberately deplorable isn't going to cause very much lost sleep if any. Though, if an organized community becomes the next target for a ban, we'll see a nasty politically driven war in full visibility on the large social media sites. Amazingly, blatantly appalling subreddits far worse than any poking fun of overweight individuals remain untouched. There's no need to link to those and give them traffic.

Reddit isn't going anywhere, though the user base may dwindle a bit much in the way regulars of controversial 4chan did a mass exodus to 8chan after Christopher Poole aka "Moot" sold off the site. Anger towards a site owner doesn't make a site go away, the lack of business does. Time will tell what will happen to Reddit in the long term, but a quote from a WSJ blog post says all that needs to said:

In a statement, Pao said, 'We wanted to take a step-by-step approach to ensure that the changes were working – and we’ll continue to do so.'

The blog post drew 15,000 comments in four hours, many of them critical. One of the most popular comments stated simply, 'I predict this isn’t going to go down well.'

Indeed. Judging by the mini panic spreading across social medial, this isn't going to go down well at all.

How do you readers feel about Reddit's censorship with the banning of certain subreddits and would you agree they were justified? Or is this part of something bigger?

About the Author

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Anthony Lee

Gamer since the NES era, computer nerd since 2001. Happily in a loving relationship with a happa who has been a gamer since the Sega Genesis era. Who says Sega does what Nintendon't?