Friday, July 08, 2011

Reddit, Anarchism, Guerrilla Marketing & Racism

As an unrepentant news junkie I often peruse Reddit, submit articles for consideration, and contribute to various discussions on that website. And, in general, I like a lot of the stuff I find on Reddit -- from the mundane (r/starcraft & r/poker), to the profound (r/TrueReddit & r/BadCopNoDonut), and everything in between (r/ That said... Reddit has some persistent problems which I feel reflect negatively on the whole site. Some of these problems you may care more or less about, and maybe all the problems aren't of equal importance, but these are some of my thoughts about Reddit which I hope might make the site better.

The r/Anarchism Subreddit is NOT an Anarchist Community.

I know that not everyone reading this is an anarchist (and may hardly have anarchist leanings at all), but the things is... many of those who post in that subreddit (including the moderators) are hardly anarchists either! This leads to a situation where people who may be curious about the philosophy could stumble upon the r/Anarchism forum and thereby become misinformed and/or turned off by the ideas they see presented there. This may very well already be the reason why some people would never consider themselves anarchists!

Some of you might think that I'm making much ado about nothing, as if the subreddit were entirely inconsequential, but the fact is that r/Anarchism is a forum which ranks very high when doing a basic Google search for the term "anarchism." So... I'm suggesting that it is actually influential about what some people think about modern anarchism. Those who value honest discussion (whether they are anarchists or not) should therefore take issue with an "anarchist" forum which actually does very little to promote the philosophy.

The issue isn't really even about whether or not the moderators of that subreddit are anarchists -- I have some faith that a non-anarchist could fairly moderate the forum by simply taking care of basic housekeeping (which basically means removing obvious spam and cleaning the spam filter). The real problem is that many of the r/Anarchism moderators (and regular contributors) are steeped in reactionary identity politics, accuse people willy nilly of abusing their perceived (1st world, male, pale-skinned) privilege, and then... they threaten to ban people who suggest things as simple as the idea that all people should be treated fairly regardless of their race, gender, or geographic location. Misusing a gender pronoun seems tantamount to a capital crime in some of their eyes.

I'm not blind to the issues of injustice surrounding race, class, gender, or sexuality. I've often discussed such topics frankly on my blog or in various forums (including on Reddit). But that doesn't mean I'm going to condemn and entirely demonize someone who possibly makes the slightest of ignorant mistakes -- and I'm certainly not going to condemn someone who didn't actually suggest anything inappropriate! Nevertheless... this is a red herring which is repeatedly thrown in the faces of several contributors to the subreddit. And these red herrings and "straw man" arguments are repeatedly used as a moderation tactic to derail discussions, attract trolls, and to set people up for being banned from posting to the r/Anarchism subreddit. How much this behavior influences the casual redditor in that forum, or the broader anarchist community, is unknown -- but I suspect it has had some effect.

Beyond that... the moderators bury various articles which don't go along with their warped sense of anarchism. Sometimes they bury them just long enough so that the article won't be given a chance to rise to the top of the page and then they make it visible again when the article will have less of a chance to be seen. This has happened to me and I have little doubt it's happened to others. Frankly... I find this behavior to be intellectually dishonest and authoritarian.

Now... I can't say with absolute certainty that the following is true, but I suspect some of the r/Anarchism moderators of potentially being online agent provocateurs. This would be something very easy to pull off on a forum like the ones used by Reddit. If you don't know the tactical history of state repression, surveillance, and disruption used against anarchists throughout history... this may seem odd to you. But I assure you that surveillance, disruption and repression happens both online and in the real world. And, with the case of Reddit Anarchism, it's not like the subreddit even had to be created by an anarchist at all! The subreddit, quite possibly, could have been created by anyone who simply wanted to play the role of "anarchist" and then control the forum for their own purposes. I ran this idea past the creator of this subreddit and their response was that, "I don't have any reason to believe the government is trying to keep tabs on internet anarchists." As if the government would never interfere or monitor the activities of online anarchists. Such naivete is striking from someone who supposedly created the subreddit to spread anarchist links (as if none of those links would have ever been about surveillance, infiltration or disruption of anarchist groups).

Finally, before I move on to the the other topics, I should point out that there is a backstory to the poor (i.e. reactionary & authoritarian) moderation currently found on r/Anarchism. Some months ago the creator of the subreddit was browbeaten by a number of people claiming that this person was a sexist and abusing their privilege, etc.. Consequently... the creator decided to de-mod themself and a new crew of moderators took over the subreddit. When they, in turn, started banning people (at a greatly increased rate) there was an outcry from the forum users suggesting that those moderators were overstepping their authority.  It was persistent enough that some of the moderators either stepped down or were removed. Hundreds of upvotes were given in some threads calling for the removal of various moderators. Nevertheless... not all of the moderators were removed, many moderators seemed opposed to removing the offending mods, and not a lot changed since the public outcry. Now it's at the point where, recently, a user was "warned" (a step towards banning) in r/MetAnarchism for even bringing up the fact that one of the disliked moderators hasn't stepped down yet. The moderator, in their defense, said that they would actually step down from their position when the drama died down -- but requesting that they fulfill the community's wishes to step down maintained the drama and, therefore, they wouldn't be stepping down just yet. Follow that logic?

In short... redditors, and people in general, should be wary of anything they see on the r/Anarchism subreddit -- it is not necessarily at all reflective of anarchist ideas, principles, or behavior. For those more curious about modern anarchist thought... I would suggest looking at titles from AK Press, Microcosm Publishing, or at other anarchist forums... like AINFOS, ANARKISMO, Infoshop News, or Anarchist NewsDot Org.

Guerrilla Marketing.

Mercifully... I don't have as much to say about this topic. It's a pretty cut and dry issue. Subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) advertisements for various products and corporations appear constantly in various subreddits. These can be in the form of memes, or in the form of a snarky picture, or in the form of a product being used in some unconventional or silly way. Sometimes even plain video advertisements get up-voted. And no matter how uninteresting or poorly constructed... some of these guerrilla ads shoot to the top of a subreddit at speeds that regular posters would be envious of. This type of behavior (gaming and manipulating the forum) has been exposed before -- both on Reddit and previously on Digg. Unfortunately, as Reddit has grown dramatically in recent months, the new casual users don't seem to care as much about this issue and therefore tolerate this nonsense. Personally... I find it annoying, it's a pet peeve, and I wish people would resist their consumer urges to upvote advertisements on Reddit.


Although Reddit generally has a progressive veneer, it seems like Reddit has recently been invaded by groups of racists who work together to upvote articles and comments with racist messages. A thread might start off in a seemingly or relatively innocuous way by asking: "Why don't black people tip well?" I'm not suggesting that's a question asked from a place of tolerance or racial harmony, but it's nothing compared to the comments which will then follow in the forum section of such a post. After the offending post itself gets promoted to the front page of Reddit... then the racist comments really pile up. And while some of the most overtly vulgar comments will get downvoted and buried... if a racist uses the least bit of civil articulation then their comment is liable to be upvoted to the top of the page.

I'm not sure what can be done about this unless it's regularly pointed out to people and they start being more vigilant and mindful about such racism on Reddit. When you see a hateful racist comment... at least take the time to downvote it -- even if you choose not to respond with a comment of your own. There is no reason such comments should continue being presented as tolerable to the Reddit community -- because, by and large, I don't think such hatefulness is truly reflective of typical redditors (or even of society at large). And I truly fear that what may be presented as a casual racist joke (or a stereotypical truism) might actually influence some of the smaller minds who are exposed to such nonsense. Racism is a serious continuing problem in the U.S. and people should be more vigilant about putting a stop to it. Maybe it won't ever be stamped out completely, but the social animosity it creates is truly burdensome to society at large. We've got other serious problems to deal with as a society, or maybe we just want to pursue fun and games, but racism impedes and distracts from both of those endeavors. I don't mean to sound preachy, but the racism on Reddit is simply unbecoming and totally disgusting.

So that's it!

My rant is over! You've made it to the end of a long-winded article despite your stunted attention span! My demons have been exorcised and I hope to inspire some thoughtful discussion with this article. I wasn't trying to slam Reddit overall, quite to contrary, but I hope these comments might serve to make it a better online community. If you haven't created an account on the site yet... you might want to consider it for nothing other than the lulz.

TL;DR -- 1.) The anarchist subreddit (r/Anarchism) is not very reflective of actual anarchist philosophy, behavior, or practice. 2.) The lame ads on Reddit which are presented and promoted as legitimate content degrades the site overall. 3.) Racists have been networking and making regular contributions to Reddit with popular posts and comments -- this is something redditors should be more vigilant about addressing and minimizing.


Anonymous said...

The comments in r/Anarchism are so tough to read sometimes. It seems like so many of them are people arguing with other people because they feel marginalized somehow. I rarely read the comments anymore and even more rarely post.

joe said...

This begs the larger question of whether the web, and digital technology in general, is an effective tool for organizing and/or ridding ourselves of the agenda of global corporate and political overlords. Computers, datacenters, network cable, and the capacity to string it all together are obvious prerequisites for a functioning internet, but the labor (and other energy) that goes into producing these goods is monstrous and exists on an enormous industrial platform. Not that I'm arguing for extinguishing the digital age, but the contingencies and precision necessary for such existence are certainly complex.