P079: Reddit is a Cesspool

Last week I used the recent Gawker debacle to take a look at how companies with disruptive cultures end up being culturally disruptive. I came down on the side of Gawker, Uber and BuzzFeed because, duh, these companies are following market incentives to deliver great experiences to their users, often at the expense of incumbents (or capital-J Journalism, or polite society). They are willing to do what other organizations are not to meet consumer demand, and if that can occasionally yields repugnant results, that’s temporal narcissism for you. If these companies are successful in the way that they intend to be, those who remember Gawker’s “reboot” will see it in the same light as most see Pablo Honey – an unfortunate but necessary step on the path to greatness.

So in the spirit of trying to keep two ideas in your head at once, I’m going to talk this week about the opposite of these companies, an operation that has many positive qualities but that I’d personally like to see destroyed: Reddit. For those with a life, Vox (natch) does an ok job explaining why Reddit has been in the news lately but they don’t get a link here because they erroneously tied CEO Ellen Pao’s resignation to the dismissal of beloved AMA moderator Victoria Taylor. If that sentence is basically gibberish, congratulations, but (spoiler alert) this is really about misogyny. Reddit sees itself as a bastion of free speech and an inclusive place for discussions of all types when in fact they are all that and a simmering cesspool of racism, misogyny and violent ignorance too!

So if you want to have an open and inclusive community, how do you make sure that it doesn’t devolve into hateful madness? Turns out, it’s impossible!

The cost of liberty is eternal vigilance, and that vigilance will, necessarily, infringe on the individual’s liberties for the greater good of the community. Generally, people understand this concept but for some reason Redditors see their community as a unique snowflake, exempt from these rules. Individual liberty is a helluva hill to die on if you are a government but when you are a company that’s owned by Condé Nast, it doesn’t make much sense. The failure of a company to enforce reasonable standards on their community is an invitation for the dregs of humanity to use your platform as their own and a million great AMAs can do nothing to offset that. Using free speech as an excuse to do nothing is a most egregious cop-out, for as a wise Canadian once said, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron