Reddit, the community forum championed by users as a stronghold of free speech, is again home to racist hate speech after the shooting death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Unlike other discussions boards on Reddit (known as “subreddits,” of which there are tens of thousands) focused on Mike Brown’s death and the protests that followed, the r/Ferguson page is populated almost exclusively by white supremacists. With fewer than 300 readers at press time, the page isn’t as popular as the r/StLouis (12,561 readers) or r/Missouri forums (2,526 readers) but it does prove that Reddit’s hands-off policy also has a downside. Similar hate-speech could also be found on Reddit when the racially-charged Trayvon Martin case dominated national headlines.
Instead of a random few posters pushing a racist philosophy, though, r/Ferguson is part of a much larger white supremacist network that exists on Reddit, according to the Daily Dot, which delved into this ugly corner of the web first. The subreddit’s founder, known only by his username Jewish_NeoCon2, is also the moderator of more than 100 subreddits including r/WhiteRights, r/TrayvonMartin, r/GoEbola, r/AdolfHitler and others within the r/GreatApes network.
“As to why people are interested in r/GreatApes, Westerners (and Americans especially) are given an unrealistic view of blacks where they are presented as a race just like Europeans but stricken by poverty and racism with the result their gigantic problem, single black welfare mom, the missing black father syndrome, school dropout rate and poor academic performance and their violence,” the moderator told the Daily Dot.
Much of what’s written and posted in the Ferguson subreddit is simply too offensive to publish, but the nature of the remarks again have critics calling on Reddit moderators to better police the site’s most offensive conversations. The company is known being one of the most hands-off comment sites online, to the point that it was major news on the site when the r/FindBostonBombers subreddit, which erroneously pointed to a depressed college student as one of the Boston Marathon bombers, was deleted. The guidelines, however, offer little insight into the administrators’ thought process.
“Remember the human. When you communicate online, all you see is a computer screen. When talking to someone you might want to ask ‘Would I say it to the person’s face?’ or ‘Would I get jumped if I said this to a buddy?’” states an explanation of “rediquette.”
Reddit’s owners have largely skirted the issue of free speech vs. hate-speech by passing on responsibility to the site’s anonymous moderators, who are largely left to their own devices unless they break the site’s key rules (prohibitions on spam, child pornography, vote manipulation and distributing other users’ personal information). That laissez faire attitude even allowed a subreddit titled simply r/n****rs to exit until it broke rules unrelated to hate speech.
“This particular subreddit and its moderators repeatedly broke key site rules,” one Reddit employee told the Daily dot at the time. “We would do this for any subreddit found to be breaking our site rules; the banning of r/n****rs was not a special case.”
Ugliness on Reddit made headlines when Gawker unmasked a user who moderated a thread called r/JailBait, which made it possible for users to share pictures of teenage girls taken without permission from the subject (or her parents). Actor William Shatner, in a post called “Turning off private messages,” took the site to task for turning the other cheek on such gross behavior.
“Reddit has become the first ‘mainstream’ site that I have been to that actually appears to allow racists and other hate mongers to group, congregate, incite and spread their hatred,” Shatner wrote. I am appalled by some of the immature, horrifically racist, sexist, homophobic, ethnic…posts that are just ignored here. Why are they accounts still active?
“While Reddit has done well in getting interest from the mainstream, I just wonder if by allowing these children to run rampant and post whatever they feel will cause the most collateral damage if Reddit is biting off its own nose in taking that step to become a mainstream community,” the “Star Trek” actor went on, decrying the notion that someone can say whatever they want “because ‘they have a right’ to do so without worry of any kind of moderation is sending the wrong message, in my humble opinion.”
Reddit did not return repeated requests for comment on this story.