How Reddit Rescued a Forum for Harassing Women

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I’ve talked about Reddit on here and on Skepchick before, and to be frank, it’s hardly ever been good news. Most of Reddit’s usefulness centers on it being the best place for researchers to study the proliferation of Nazis on the Internet, which isn’t really something to brag about, you know? There was one sort of positive piece I did last year about a study that showed that censoring hate speech works. To recap, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology studied the posting habits of Redditors who were previously active on some hate subreddits directed at fat people and black people. When those subreddits were eventually banned by Reddit, the researchers found that almost half of the users disappeared or deleted their accounts, and of the ones who stayed, they reduced their use of hate speech by 80 to 90%. Banning the hate forums actually did help stop the hate speech on Reddit.

I bring all this up because last week, the Redditor who created Kotaku in Action attempted to delete that subreddit. Kotaku in Action, or KiA, was created alongside Gamergate, and became a place for Gamergaters to collect and dox, harass, and discuss women like Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu (and yes, in full disclosure, occasionally me — I’m not a video game maker but I am a prominent feminist, and Gamergate was above all other things an outlet for men to harass feminists). KiA has been active for years now, and its creator, david-me, published a post describing how it was, despite all appearances, pretty heavily moderated for awhile.

David-me says that for a long time, he and the other moderators worked hard to delete the worst of the harassment and slurs, but that they had trouble keeping up and even figuring out what was too misogynist or racist for Reddit and what was just misogynist or racist enough to skirt the rules.

He also describes how he felt as a person with autism and generalized anxiety disorder, when those conditions were constantly used as the butt of jokes by people on the subreddit he created and moderated. It’s interesting how we often accept the slurs directed at others but suddenly see the problem clearly when their directed at ourselves.

So after many years of attempting to clean up the subreddit but seeing it overwhelmed with upvotes from virulent bigots, David-me decided to shut it down for good. He posted about how Reddit higher-ups knew how bad it was but allowed it to continue because the traffic was so plentiful, and therefore the ad money was too. He pointed out that while KiA was a “cancerous growth,” it was a mere suspicious mole compared to the full-body malignancy that is the_donald, Reddit’s home for Donald Trump’s fanbase, who constantly post bigoted slurs and threats toward women, minorities, and of course now, journalists who they think produce “fake news.”

Though David-me helped create this monster, and allowed it to fester for years, and only seemed to come to this realization in part because he realized he was one of the oppressed people being mocked on the subreddit, I still think he should be commended. Reddit operates on a system that prioritizes fake Internet points, and trying to get other users to like you and reward you with those sweet upvotes. Shutting down a subreddit with nearly 100,000 subscribers takes guts.

And as the research I mentioned suggests, David-me’s actions could have a very real impact on reducing the total amount of hate speech on Reddit.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Reddit higher-ups stepped in and reversed David-me’s actions, reinstating Kotaku in Action and establishing other moderators in his place. That’s right — not only did Reddit allow KiA to fester this long, but they took an administrative action to reverse the founder and primary moderator’s decision to end the subreddit. That’s not just Reddit tolerating the bigotry — that’s them actively approving of it.

It’s gross, and I wish I could say I’m surprised. But time and again Reddit proves that it does not place any emphasis on the health and safety of either its own users or people in the wider world who are targeted and harassed by these users. You would hope that in an era of people starting to fight back against Trump, the GOP, and the abusers who inspired #MeToo, Reddit would maybe take the temperature of the room and join the forces of good.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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