Reddit Comments Prove You Can’t Hide Hate

Casey Stevens, NBC News, August 12, 2015

Reddit is in the midst of a painful growth process. The fact that the site has played host to repugnant, often violent strains of misogyny and racism has made it a difficult sell for people beyond its traditional user base, as well as for many advertisers.

As former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao put it in a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, in order for websites like Reddit to attract mainstream audiences and big-budget advertisers, they must “hide or remove the ugly.”

In one of his first acts upon his return to Reddit, current CEO Steve Huffman made the decision to attempt to hide some of the ugliest portions of his site instead of removing them. That decision was wrong for Reddit, its business partners, and society at large.

You can’t hide hate. As we can clearly see on Reddit right now, the people who harbor it can’t help but let it out. Racists on Reddit have never intended to stay contained in their “subreddits,” or designated forums; white nationalists have even provided a template for using Reddit to recruit for their cause.

The tone of the site is increasingly ugly as a result; hate can be found far from spaces dedicated to it. Even subreddits as innocuous as /r/SomethingIMade are not immune; last week, a popular thread about a handmade toaster was derailed when the original poster sought to use his newfound popularity to share a video “summarizing the impending danger Europe is in.”

Quarantining that user’s subreddits does not prevent him from using the rest of the site. Even banning the hub of the most notorious offenders, as Reddit did last week when it banned CoonTown and a few related subreddits, cannot solve the entire problem in the absence of a clear policy banning hate speech. Those tens of thousands of users are still on the site, harassing and even threatening other users as well as developing a successor to CoonTown.

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But ultimately, racism is not just bad for business; it leads inevitably to violence, and that cannot be tolerated. The recent massacre of nine black churchgoers by a young man radicalized by hate speech online is a salient rebuttal to the argument that hate speech is harmless.

The violence and needless suffering so many people of color are burdened with are not always as noticeable as they have been this past year, but that suffering has been with us since our nation’s founding, and it is supported by ideologies of the kind Reddit harbors in its “hidden” chambers of hate. That is unacceptable, especially for a company that wants to be a force for good in the world.

So even if Reddit could quarantine the fastest-growing, most engaged hate community on the web behind a wall, those of us committed to improving society would not let it. You can’t hide from the Internet, and you can’t hide hate.

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