Reddit has been one of the most popular social media sites on the internet since its founding 10 years ago. That could be changing.
In circumstances best described as contentious, Ellen Pao was installed as the company’s “interim” CEO in November. In May, Pao introduced Reddit’s first ever anti-harassment policy. Soon people began to notice things like news stories being deleted from the site, and posts disappearing for no immediately apparent reason.
Redditors were quick to come up with theories, though. Nicknaming the new CEO “Chairman Pao,” many users of the site posited that Pao was instructing moderators on the site to push the political agenda of “social justice warriors,” a term referring to left-wing advocates of extreme identity politics masquerading as a tolerance movement.
The theory seemed solid, given that Pao previously rose to fame by suing a prominent Silicon Valley firm for gender discrimination, and losing. The sordid details of the case painted Pao as someone aggressively pursuing victim status, merited or not.
Pao seemed to confirm these theories when she came out on May 20 and declared Reddit was not a free speech platform, and would be a “safe space.” References to “chairman Pao” were systematically deleted.
On June 10th, the moderators of Reddit, acting under the anti-harassment policy, shut down several popular sub-reddits (the site’s name for dedicated discussion groups), including one called “r/fatpeoplehate,” which was at the time the 13th most popular sub-reddit on the site. The group was admittedly devoted to fat shaming and fighting against the rise of fat acceptance in society.
Breitbart’s post on the subject quickly sparked a #RedditRevolt twitter hashtag, and popular writer and #GamerGate supporter Milo Yiannopoulis helped get the #GamerGate group involved. With the help of the dedicated #GamerGaters, #RedditRevolt went over 10,000 mentions in its first day.
Reddit’s actions were immediately compared to the demise of content aggregator and social site Digg, which followed a similar pattern of pushing out its userbase. Ironically, Reddit was one of the major reasons Digg lost its eminence as an aggregator.
Another similar development occurred on the infamous 4Chan message boards with the #GamerGate movement. 4chan allowed anonymous posting, and was a hotbed of #GamerGate activity until the site’s powers-that-be declared it to be a #GamerGate free zone. The movement simply switched to 8chan, and 4chan lost significant traffic – and thus revenue.
In point of fact, the #GamerGate movement has been extraordinarily successful at hitting websites in the pocketbook. Given their track record, and the vibe of history repeating itself, Reddit’s days as an internet juggernaut could be numbered.
There are some arguing that the purge of this content is for the good – including one of Reddit’s co-founders. So which is it? Let us know in the comments which is more important – free speech for users, or safe spaces for other users.