Reddit Racism: An Open Secret
Reddit is, as you probably know, one of the internet's biggest websites, drawing in over 18 million visitors a month. With so many visitors, you are bound to get some bad apples; but reddit has a bigger problem with this than you might expect.
Others have written about the controversial nature of certain subreddits (small forums within reddit for speciality interests, e.g. r/gameofthrones), especially in the wake of the Michael Brutsch/violentacrez scandal, their problems with child porn, and false accusations of terrorism against innocent people after theBoston bombings.
But there is another undercurrent of nastiness to reddit, one that has not drawn as much attention. That undercurrent is the persistent racism allowed to flourish on the site, not just in obvious areas like r/n**gers or r/whiterights (more on them later), but in many of the default subreddits like r/videos or r/adviceanimals, or political subreddits like r/worldnews.
As you can imagine, a significant number of redditors want things to change. One such person is user TheIdesOfLight, who moderates subreddit /r/Blackladies. She called the situation "absolutely horrendous."
"I never realized how bad it was until we created /r/Blackladies and have to delete upwards of 50 extremely hateful comments daily," she said.
She went on to tell me that she believes this is because of the sheer size and popularity of reddit, as well as the admin's "obsession with free speech".
"Reddit is the one place many people know they are free to be as hateful as possible without any fear of repercussion. Stormfront has also gained quite a foothold on the site. They literally use it as a recruiting ground for white nationalism."
When I asked her about this, she showed me this post on Stormfront, a white nationalist website encouraging members to "slap some sense" into redditors who think racism is bad. I asked her whether she thought the admins would ever do anything about this. She doesn't think so.
"They ignore the site's problems until the media gets their hands on it," she said. "All of the mods at BlackLadies, AntiRa and more have sent countless messages to the admins all but begging them to enforce their user agreement.
"I have never seen the admins enforce these rules.
"Now that the entire internet is aware of the admins maligned definition of 'free speech', they understand that just about anything goes on Reddit. You are free to harass anybody. You are free to use hate speech.
"By now they've shackled themselves and must know that if they started enforcing their own rules that the userbase would most likely revolt, leave in droves or worse."
Ides is not alone in feeling this way. I spoke to dhamster, a moderator of r/Circlebroke, a subreddit which comments on many of the offensive aspects of the reddit "hivemind".
"People upvote the things they want to hear and downvote the things that make them uncomfortable, so it's common to see defenses of racist content drown out more critical points of view in many communities," he said, adding:
"The admins don't enforce the user agreement at all."
I began to wonder whether other non-white redditors felt the same way as I did, so I went to subreddits that are specific communities for ethnic minorities. Many of them were eager to speak to me.
"It could be because everyone posts anonymously or because it's majority young white males. Whatever the reason, racism on reddit is terrible," said Jasmine*.
"r/n***ers isn't even the worst of it, it's the people who claim not to be racist while denigrating welfare queens or thugs and fetishizing Asian women.
"Whatever the reason, the racism on reddit is terrible."
A user who wished to remain anonymous said, somewhat downheartedly, that "racism isn't a big deal to the white majority on reddit. It's easy for them to say "just downvote it or ignore it", because it's not something they face every day."
One redditor, Shahid, told me that "the massive phenomenon of overt and covert racism on the website should be of note", and went on to explain that he felt the ability to be anonymous on reddit led people to say what they really felt, unlike other websites like Facebook.
"It allows the user to be open and honest about things they would never open up about in the real world," he said.
"So when racial stereotypes, cultural ignorance and outright racism make an appearance it is much harder to write it off as a simple aberration, personal quirk or "troll" than it would be on a single-topic forum or network."
After reading all of this, I spoke to r/n***ers and r/whiterights to see whether they are, as many on reddit claim, "just trolls", or whether they seemed to believe what they were saying.
An r/whiterights mod called Ian assured me that "we aren't racial supremacists", before going on to say "racial equality is a faith based religion". Another mod, ABsynth808, said racial equality had "failed", adding that "empirical evidence" showed that different races cannot get along. Ian also told me their subscribers had doubled in the 8 months he had been there.
People were much more vocal at r/n***ers, as you can read at your own leisure in this thread, but there were some particular statements that stood out to me.
One response to my asking whether they were aware that racial slurs were prohibited and whether they thought the admins would enforce their rules was simply "Lol", with another saying "IDGAF".
Interestingly, one of those people went on to echo what Ides told me earlier about reddit not wanting to enforce its rules for fear of losing users:
"I don't think the admins want a s*** storm of censorship being played out because I know they make a f*** load of cash from this website, and once word got out that they pick and choose what can and cannot fly, the site could potentially collapse and people would have to start looking for real jobs.
"I think the rule is stated as what I like to call a 'cover our ass' rule, a window dressing as it were."
(As a side-note, my favourite reply was the poster who said "although I am racist, I don't hate black people.")
R/n***ers currently has 7,134 members; r/Whiterights has 1,990. I don't think that many people can be "just trolling", though undoubtedly some are, but I suspect that many of them are simply glad to have a platform to tell each other how awful all the other races are. I think reddit may have a serious problem on its hands - that is, if it doesn't want to be associated with racism and white supremacists.
As I've said, it's not just these two subreddits or their friends - there is widespread latent racism in many reddit threads, from the common joke of r/blackfathers to assertions that black women are all angry or unattractive to rampant Islamophobia and hatred towards Muslim people. The list goes on.
At time of publishing, the admins of reddit have not responded to my requests for a comment, and it is of course up to them how far they take their principles of free speech (though technically, free speech only applies to the government - reddit is a private site, and are within their rights to restrict whatever they want). In my view, when racism is allowed to flourish on your site, I think a line should be drawn.
However, I did notice that a couple of weeks after I emailed them, this article popped up. Perhaps reddit is beginning to take a stand against the hatred that their laissez-faire attitude has encouraged.
Let's hope so.
*some names are reddit handles, others real names, according to preference