Reddit is an immensely popular platform and it has gone through its own growing pains since its start, bringing forth how misused freedom of expression can easily rewrite community guidelines as well as Reddit contributors’ expectations.
Individuals on Reddit can upvote or downvote conversations, pushing the conversation to the top of one’s feed. Users can also obtain social credibility through the earning of “karma” points for appropriate and relevant input to the conversation. Moreover, everything is done under the comfortable veil of anonymity. Indeed, the majority of users post what they wish to see on social media platforms.
But Reddit is a social media platform that isn’t quite like others. Reddit is known for its unique form of “decentralized moderation.” In other words, there is no singular authority representing all those who participate in the platform’s subreddits. Rules also vary for subreddits, depending on the moderators’ wishes. Subreddits — or communities for more niche topics to take place — take all contributors’ interests into account, with moderators spearheading by keeping everyone in check, hence the name.
In the summer of 2005, Reddit emerged and eventually bloomed through its success on subreddit threads. The culture of Reddit isn’t unlike other social media platforms, where the focus has always been on individuals and encouraging them to stay on the sites so that the creators can garner revenue. But even benign subreddits like ones on specific skin care routines and new tricks for skateboarding are a testament to the extremely niche content that will accommodate everyone who joins Reddit.
However, community guidelines have increased in strictness. Since recent backlash from users, guidelines have been more intact to stifle white supremacy, racism, and misogynistic behavior. This means being less lax with inappropriate Reddit comments and hateful speech, which is not justified by freedom of speech on the platform.
Reddit has the means to quarantine a subreddit, which prevents growth and then as a last resort, banning the subreddit if they don’t follow basic community guidelines. Banning a community and its users is possible for those who invoke violence or hate.
Ashley Judd, in her frank 2016 TED Talk on the online hate speech toward women, addresses the topic of misogyny. She remarked that “you can’t make a cucumber out of a pickle,” referring to the traumatizing, misogynistic comments one receives and can’t just reverse the consequences of. Additionally, she states that online violence is an extension of in-person violence.
Negative comments, in general, affect one physically, psychologically, and mentally. Thus, Reddit is undoubtedly a powerful platform when hateful speech can further expand to physical violence.
Reddit has empowered many individuals shrouded by anonymity who dub themselves “incels” and seeth under the reign of “Chad/Stacy”s. The term that’s short for “involuntary celibate” arose especially on Reddit. The individuals express bitterness and distaste for those more sexually attractive than them — the “Chad”s and the “Stacy”s — as well as those who do not deem them attractive.
In a study on Reddit incels by Rosalie Gillett and Nicolas Suzor, their analysis detailed how incels responded to criticism and external pressure to change their ways. They noted in their study that punitive measures did not knock incels off their subreddits. Rather, moderators need to be more committed and united in warding toxic ideologies. Individuals most tied to their ideologies, according to Gillett and Suzor, will simply become more tied in tighter, further communities. These, then, might be more difficult to confront and correct.
In the same study on Reddit incel behavior, the authors state that the threat of prohibition won’t change the culture of subreddits. There need to be more deep-rooted measures such as addressing cultural norms and not individual communities.
Reddit’s emphasis on a strong community can backfire in toxic groups such as the notorious, banned r/Incels or r/braincels that had a strong group identity and didn’t take criticism. Useful functions such as “Automod” on Reddit automatically apply subreddit rules; these can often be used to keep norms intact as well as easily stifle any outsiders’ perspectives. Once the latter takes place, a community is less likely to change their ways but rather have a stronger group identity.
Additionally, some subreddits that attempted to distance themselves from the hatred-oriented themes in incel communities while still expressing discontentment at not having a romantic interest ended up devolving into incel ideology.
Cancel culture or the — usually online — bashing of anyone engaged in wrongful or inappropriate behavior is one example of a solution that comes to mind, especially when incels are usually humorously denounced.
The idea of “cancel culture” might, though, not be so productive as it is counterintuitive. According to writer Jon Ronson, author of “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” we like to surround ourselves with those who are in agreement with what we do.
This, again, emphasizes the importance of community. There is some kind of solace in others’ agreement or advice on Reddit. However, this desire to show care can also lead to a barrage of negativity against those who have committed wrongs such as incel behavior without any actual rectification of their actions on their part.
Reddit’s popularity as a platform has not waned. For instance, as of late, many subreddit conversations on “Am I the A–hole” or A.I.T.A Reddit have gone viral for the anonymous individuals’ blaringly oblivious confessions to acting as the name implies.
The users trust strangers with being able to honestly discuss with them if their behavior was righteous or not. These conversations have even triggered more dialogue by being posted to other social media platforms such as YouTube and Instagram.
Moderators on Reddit are at bay to make sure questions are getting answered or remaining germane to the discussion. This system allows any curious individual to Google a question and obtain some nuanced, specific answers and informative explanations.
But Reddit easily began as a breeding ground for extremely toxic communities — those that Reddit has been more willing to weed out. Though such has been said to have imposed on freedom of expression or camaraderie in communities, particular inappropriate behaviors will continue to be called to attention by outsiders. Anonymity and solidarity in words create both hearth and opportunity for ostracization.
Whether content moderation is successful or not in addressing seriously egregious behavior is questionable. Benefits may arise from pinpointing the ideologies of these “incels” or other toxic members of Reddit and unraveling them from there.
Image Courtesy by Brett Jordan