Reddit is at its best when it has no illusions about what it really is: an enormous internet rock tumbler that occasionally produces something with viral potential for me and my coworkers to post on Gawker. When it pretends it’s not also a hive of racism and slime, it insults our collective intelligence.
This week, the Conde Nast-affiliated content derrick announced it was “sharing [its] core values with the world,” which is a strange offer to begin with (“Thanks?” — The World). Other than broadly geek-approved tenets like Privacy is good and We like net neutrality, Reddit has never been a values-based community, which is why it’s become synonymous with stolen nudes, “men’s rights,” GamerGate, and lonely people ejaculating on anime figurines. But those corners of the site aren’t even its most loathsome.
In the last issue of its official “Upvoted Weekly” email newsletter, Reddit congratulated itself for the community’s amateur coverage of Baltimore’s Freddie Gray protests—and linked to a thread titled, with tact representative of the site’s Baltimore coverage as a whole, “Baltimore Violence Live.” The page served mostly as digital bleachers upon which Redditors judged angry, typically black Baltimoreans from afar: “a bunch of rioters and looters that are insanely aggressive counts as immediate mortal danger to me,” commented Milkshakes00. And this was only a sliver of the site’s disquieting “discussion” of American civil unrest; subreddits like /r/Pics, /r/News, and /r/Video, which boast millions of subscribers and many, many more readers, functioned as festering landfills of white supremacist ranting.
Threads that merely shared photos from Baltimore showed the same rote racism, over and over:
This was the “discussion” over which Reddit had so much pride:
Which persisted, in countless threads, throughout the Baltimore protests:
Openly, explicitly racist Reddit communities like /r/CoonTown saw a surge in attendance:
And so on. Rounding up every instance of Reddit’s online garbage would take as long and be as pleasant as task as identifying each individual turd in a sewage outflow pipe, but trust me when I say that there is way, way more of this material on the site. Check for yourself. It is vast, and for probably the first time in the site’s history, it is unavoidable, even on the most public-facing and popular subreddits—if Reddit is reading Reddit, it knows this just as well as I do. So, when the site published this public declaration of “values” yesterday, it was hard to keep a straight face (a contorted frown was easier):
Creating these values was a broad and iterative effort that included company-wide discussions, employee-led committees, and open feedback forums. Because of this, every one of us can confidently stand by these values and commit to following them both in the way we operate internally and how we interact with the community.
We value privacy, freedom of expression, open discussion, and humanity, and we want to make sure that we uphold these principles for all kinds of people. We encourage all redditors to join us in protecting these values and making reddit a safe and positive community for everyone.
In particular, the company highlighted these among its “core values”:
This is among the most cynical gestures I’ve seen on the whole wide internet, itself a festering swamp of cynicism and dimwittedness. Nevermind that many of these values contradict each another; consider that one of the largest and most influential websites of all time—backed by tens of millions of dollars in venture capital—could at once claim to “champion diversity” while hosting a page titled “/r/GasTheKikes.” If this decree was truly the product of “company-wide discussions, employee-led committees, and open feedback forums,” it seems impossible that no one would say “how about we ban users who call black people nig-nogs?”
It’s clear Reddit, its founder Alexis Ohanian, and its CEO Ellen Pao (yes, that Ellen Pao!) don’t give any sort of a shit about “remembering the human.” The site is stuck so far up its own techno-libertarian ass, shouting about the importance of anonymity and laissez-faire community governance into its bowels, that it can’t see the very plain truth: it has become a top destination for bigots. With the same zeal that they brought to the fight to block SOPA, Redditors fight anti-racism or anti-sexism efforts as the encroachment of a fascist surveillance state. This stupidity comes straight from the stupid top. When asked about its rotten user base by TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis at an event yesterday, Ohanian basically responded with a fart noise:
“The internet as a technology is incredibly liberating because it lets anyone anywhere have a megaphone...I really do believe the reasonable voices will win, but, yes, it’s extremely hard, and these are things I can’t even empathize with as a straight white dude,” he said. “I hope though that we can continue to get better at this. It’s going to take a collaborative effort.”
Ohanian acts like that “megaphone” is some natural monument, a rock formation that predates humanity, a force that’s out of his control—he doesn’t seem to realize that he built, profited from, and continues to be the public face of this megaphone, a megaphone that he could choose not to hand to people who wish to scream slurs through it.
I think Ohanian is both deeply naive and deeply afraid of the people who use Reddit. He saw firsthand how easy it was for his site to completely eradicate Digg, its late-aughts rival and predecessor, whose users revolted against what they saw as heavy-handed management and censorship. Ohanian is just smart enough to know that the exact same thing could happen to Reddit in an instant, so he’ll let the children run wild rather than tell them to go to bed and stop calling each other kikes and masturbating to underage girls.
Maybe Reddit is just ungovernable, and any website that encourages a pseudonymous free-for-all sans accountability will inevitably turn toxic to its core. Upon seeing the values announcement, Reddit’s GamerGate HQ reacted sharply: “Reddit is going the way of SJW,” lamented one ethics enthusiast. “Ellen Pao is in charge remember, and it’s based in San Francisco. When you elect a fucking lunatic, you get the expected outcome everyone here said would come to fruition.”
The real core value of the people in charge of Reddit is the belief that if the internet is going to have a massive cesspit of reactionary abuse and racist garbage, it might as well be their cesspit.