[Content note: the following was written prior to reddit’s Wednesday decision to ban Coontown and a few other redditors. I still think my article is relevant, because reddit is still quarantining the hate speech, and because the reason they banned Coontown was, and I shit you not, because it “annoy[ed] other redditors.” As with the rest of the incidents outlined below, reddit is attempting to have it both ways; if anything this is more proof of reddit’s inherent moral degradation, as they are going to crazy lengths to keep hate speech on their site, only kicking off the ones that are publicity disasters. Those subreddits will just reform under other names, as they’ve already started to do, and the stream of hatred that reddit enables will continue pissing on people of color, women, queers, the non-gender normative, and those who live at the intersections of these identities. But again, this issue is complicated, as I explain below.]

You probably shouldn’t frequent reddit any more. It’s not the end of the world if you do, but reddit has now passed the moral event horizon, and it is now a subtle evil in the same way that Uber or AirBnB are moderately evil additions to the modern world. If this is news to you, let me explain what happened to push reddit over the line.


This card image, and the rest of the ones in the article, are a reflection of my feelings towards Reddit, a major traffic source in the Magic content creation community.


First, let me define my term. When I say a company is evil, what I mean is that they are working towards a vision of the future that fails the vast majority of the people in this country. An easy example of an evil company would be Booz Allen. They’re a private contractor who are implicated in the wholesale surveillance of the American people. Their vision of the future is one in which we’ve given up all our privacy in the name of an impossible degree of security. They are either unaware, uncaring, or supportive of the ways in which this concentration of federal power will undermine democratic movements in the states and result in the imprisonment of political prisoners, arrested for thought-crime. That’s dark! That’s what a very evil company looks like.

Most evil companies don’t reach that level, though. For most evil companies, it means paying their employees the least amount possible and charging their customers the most amount possible. They envision a future where labor protections are broken and the government can’t tell them what to do. This is also a dark future, as the government has been a shield for many over the years, but it’s a pretty fucking probable one at this point, so if this is the only way a company is working to fuck the American people, then their entity’s evil can be seen as relatively minor. So when I say reddit is now a moderate evil, what I mean is that it’s not trying to spend billions to buy the government, but still isn’t working in the best interests of humanity.


Google’s initial ethos was “don’t be evil,” but the rest of Silicon Valley has found evil makes for a better business plan.


Now, a history lesson. As many of you may know, since the beginning reddit has attracted some of the best people on the internet. It has also attracted some of the worst. Born on the premise of being a content-neutral platform, it soon found the problems associated with hosting free speech without limitations. The high-profile issues started when the pedophiliac creepshot community r/jailbait got hammered by CNN in 2011. It was, as you might think, a community focused around sharing pictures of underage girls, usually taken without their consent or even knowledge, passed around for the purposes of masturbation.

Don’t get me wrong, masturbation and pornography aren’t inherently evil, in any sense of the word. There are plenty of pornographic sharing subreddits that have happily continued along over the years, including ones in which individuals share their own amateur porn pics and vids, as well as ones that share promotional content from different pornographic sites across the net. But the key is consent, and time and time again reddit has offered space to people who don’t give two shits about whether or not their masturbatory material was obtained ethically.

This continued in 2012, when Gawker ran an article exposing the real identity of one of reddit’s high-profile moderators (of such classy communities as r/creepshots, which is basically where r/jailbait went after the CNN expose). This, however, was far enough detached from pedophilia for people to close ranks around this bad apple, and close ranks they did. Instead of a conversation about the changing privacy norms in a culture that defends taking upskirt and downblouse pictures of strangers who committed the sin of being in public while female, we ended up in a conversation about how outing a content publisher on the internet was the greatest crime against privacy a modern person could commit.

As you can imagine, that conversation was full of hypocrisy. Reddit, in the same breath that they talk about how they’re the permanent defenders of free speech on the internet, admitted that the only reason they didn’t ban the link to that Gawker article was because it would make them look bad. Swirling amidst these two alternating arguments about free speech, though, was another, less examined issue: the fact that the moderator in question was also promoting racist hate speech in some of the other subreddits that he moderated.


That flavortext seems like the mindset driving the hardcore trolls and racists. They are unflagging in their rage.


Moderate, for what it’s worth, is a hilarious term to use to describe reddit’s content cultivators. The utter fragmentation of the public forum has lead to a culture in which, no longer forced to communicate with people fundamentally different from themselves, users have found echo chambers that reflect and magnify their rage. It has lead to a type of radicalization, where angry young men can find all sorts of personally compelling reasons to blame the shortcomings in their life not on the capitalism that has denied them of purpose, not on the generation of Americans who sold out their children for their own selfish financial gain, and not on the broken culture that ties manhood into violence and then has the state monopolize all forms of it, but on the advances our society has made in the acceptance of people traditionally suppressed by the white male norm.

Thus Gamergate. Thus triggerhappy police officers.* Thus all the assholes with manifestos on their computers, murder in their heart, and a gun in their hand.


Incidentally, you should look into police reform. Reforming the criminal justice system has benefits across the rest of the government, and must be both proactive and retroactive in its effect.


Reddit has gone through several more of these cycles. There was Elliot Rodger, a misogynist who made his way through the Pick-Up Artist and Men’s Rights Activist communities that spun out of reddit’s free speech. He himself never posted there, but the language of his manifesto and his YouTubes echo rhetoric weaponized in reddit communities. Elliot ended up killing six people in an extended shooting/stabbing spree, using weapons legally purchased, and targeting a sorority and his Asian roommates and friends. Nothing came of the response to this incident.

There was r/n*****s, a subreddit given plenty of opportunities to correct their behavior, and that was banned not for the virulent racism they espoused, but because they were unable or unwilling to stay quarantined in their own subreddit. R/beatingwomen was kicked off for doxxing, not for the fact that it was condoning and promoting violent crimes against women.

And then there was the celebrity nude photo hack, posted to reddit under the completely appropriate name of “The Fappening.” That was sarcasm, incidentally; “fapping” is slang term for wanking off, showing the fundamental objectification at the heart of that massive data breach. Reddit stood its ground for a month on that front, hoisting the banner of free speech in defense of illegally obtained, copyright infringing, nude pictures of women, some of whom were underage at the time. They were defending the kiddie equivalent of revenge porn. Even that policy was wildly inconsistent, because when the Sony data hack happened, and peoples’ work emails all leaked, reddit closed the sub sharing it right-quick. And yet, they still had not passed the moral event horizon, even through all this. You could still go to the good parts of reddit without giving benefit to the stuff on reddit that you hate.


Speaking of sex, this is the only Magic card with sex in its name (excluding sextants for obvious reasons). I can see why they moved away from this type of shit.


That all changed in the last month or so.

Leading up to reddit’s moral catastrophe, the site brought in a woman, Ellen Pao, to act as interim CEO. In hindsight, she seems to have been chosen for the degree to which she would inflame reddit’s dark underbelly, as part of the whole “glass cliff” phenomenon. She was a smart Asian woman who had previously made the news due to a sexual harassment claim about the partnership track at the firm where she had been working. While the court found against her, anyone who has faced discrimination recognizes the truth in her allegations. Having worked in employment law in the past, I think it’s pretty fucking obvious that she was discriminated against, but that modern employment law, having not been significantly revamped since the ADA, offers woefully little protection against all but the most bumbling bigots in power. Anyway, the misogynists and racists, not knowing the ins and outs of employment law, saw this as being vindication of all their negative opinions of her, and they started hammering her, well beyond the bounds of decency.

For a while, it looked like her personal experiences with the dark side of reddit might prompt some actual change. Reddit, under Pao, actually seemed to realize that free speech is not the panacea they had desired, and they banned five different hate-based subreddits. Their names? R/fatpeoplehate, r/hamplanethatred, r/transf*gs, r/neof*g, and r/shitn*****ssay. Each was explicitly a hate group against a certain type of person, and yet they were just scratching the surface of the environment that had, over time, become the second biggest host of white power hate speech on the internet. Still, that was forward progress, and people were hoping that they’d keep on this path, tackling subreddits like “Coontown” next.

Instead, after a bad management decision that didn’t seem to trace back to Pao, she got kicked to the curb. The original founders, who came up with reddit while attending a university famous for having rape and racism issues, ended up back in control, and one of the first things they did was to announce that reddit would stay a bastion of free speech, and that included hate speech. Perhaps then worrying about they would be seen as profiting off hate speech, instead of just promoting it out of the goodness of their hearts, the founders made the decision to publicly quarantine all those hateful subreddits away from where advertiser content would be shown.


If I had a hammer, I would hammer all of the glass impediments we use to ensconce white supremacy. The system is rigged. If it were fair, people like me would be a lot less angry.


Now, reddit uses the money based off ads to support the costs of running a large website. I don’t know if they’re profitable yet, but to the degree that internet companies have business models, reddit’s is to make its money through ad impressions based on unique clicks to the site. This is a fine business model, and it’s worked for Facebook and Twitter, so this should be a pretty morality-neutral decision. The quarantine changed that. Because it costs money to host websites on the internet, and because those hate-speech sites are now hosted by reddit without making any money for reddit, that means that the electricity and the servers and all the concrete costs associated with maintaining the platform for those hate-fueled trolls comes from the rest of us.

Now, whenever you click on a link to reddit you’re helping pay the bills for the second-largest hate site on the net.

So that’s how reddit slipped past the moral event horizon to become something actually evil. But there’s a part two to this analysis: is this incarnation of reddit evil enough to compel a change in your habits? The answer to that is a lot less clear.

I do not know the costs associated with maintaining a well-trafficked subreddit. I would imagine they’re, in the grand scheme of things, somewhat negligible; maybe a couple of thousand dollars per month? It’d be a lot for a person to pay monthly, but for a business like the Conde Nast-owned reddit, that’s chump change. Similarly, the current advertising point on reddit seems to be $0.75 for every thousand clicks. So, while you’re helping to maintain those quarantined subs every time you click through to the site, the nature of the numbers mean each click is negligible, and the behavior of any individual person is not going to be sufficient enough to starve those hateful subs.

I see it as being similar to many of the other morally complex consumer choices we’re forced to make in a capitalist system. Take, for example, Uber. I think Uber, as a company, are the scummiest group of entitled business overlords we’ve seen in this country since the days when companies hired Pinkertons to beat up their workers. They’re explicitly trying to become such a prime factor in the transportation economy such that they can pay their workers less while charging more. Their dream is for driverless cars, which would leave their current flock of employees without further employment. Not that they’ll ever admit that they’re an employer in the legal sense of the word, despite every thinking person assuming that the guy who shows up when you click for an Uber is an employee of the company whose services you’re contracting.


My god, think of all the venture capital that Phyrexian oil could raise in this country. It’s truly disturbing.


Uber is fucking vile. But I use it sometimes! The degree to which it offers convenience for me far outweighs the degree to which my use or disuse of the service would change their policies or influence. Because, at the end of the day, it is impossible to live a fully ethical life while engaged with modern civilization.

Factory farm practices implicate the vast majority of our food infrastructure, and even the organic stuff needs to be shipped, which burns fossil fuels. Coca Cola has long been plagued with allegations of murderous business partners in South America. The rare earth metals necessary for modern electronics like the iPhone are both environmental catastrophes to mine, and even the tin is usually sourced to war-torn parts of Africa. Global warming is going to kill us all. The commonality between all these examples? There is jack shit we can do to stop them by modifying our personal spending habits. They’re all too big for individual action, and even if we could make a change as an individual, to do so within the consumerist system designed to prevent major change in market patterns would be as fruitful as trying to swim in past a riptide.


Capitalism doesn’t necessarily have to be an exploitative system, but this modern casino/cronyism version is. To fix it requires a minimum income, huge investments in public transportation, and an end to privatization and government bailouts. If an industry is important to this country and unable to stand profitably on its own two feet, it should be run on a nonprofit basis by the government, who is the cheapest cost avoider.


What we can do is make choices. We can decide for ourselves that, no matter how pointless it might be, we’re going to stop supporting a thing we deem having gone too far. Those choices are at their most potent when you’re choosing social networks, systems that require user buy-in for their business model. Reddit has reached this point for me. I recognize that there are people out there who would make a different set of choices, and I respect that. If you’re getting a lot out of reddit, if you’ve found a supportive community there that you can’t find elsewhere, then that balance works out differently for you.

But think about it. Make sure that reddit hasn’t passed that point for you, too. We know how internet radicalization works, and we know that white supremacists are far more likely to engage in domestic terrorism than other groups. So ponder that, and then think about whether you want to support a company that has decided to support the biggest watering hole for racists short of Stormfront, on nonprofit grounds.

I don’t. Do you?


Jess Stirba is a flawed human being, because that’s what we all are.


*If you don’t think this is a problem for law enforcement, then you’re clearly not familiar with the message boards that all big city police departments eventually accrue. Those things are almost always toxic hotbeds of racism and misogyny, and only serve to reinforce the “us versus them” mentality that has turned our guardians into our wardens.

↧Also probably being seen in the Ferguson police force, whose post-”Justice Department reading them the riot actpolice chief is a black man, providing the demonstrably racist powerbrokers of that hamlet a win-win situation where either the black guy solves their problem and they don’t have to deal with any complaints any more, or where the black guy fails and they can just be like, “hey, we’re not racist, we hired that black guy” before continuing on with their predatory economic system. Isn’t civics fun?

↯The ADA, passed in 1990, contains an explicit exclusion of trans people, in the hateful parlance of that time. So, just goes to show you, a reasonable society would probably make an effort to expand their employment laws every decade or so, to reflect the changing mores of a liberalizing society. Of course, that would require employers give a shit about their employees, and see that discriminatory conduct robs them of talent and is thus a net negative for their bottom line, but that hasn’t been true since the 90s, at least.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.