Reddit. It’s a website about links, self posts, upvotes and downvotes. One of the most visited websites on the internet. It features pictures of cats, forced memes, funny gifs and AMAs from the president. Its demographics are heavily white and male and feel even whiter and more male than they actually are. The website’s managers and its most loyal users are wedded to a vison of free speech that rejects the idea of censoring even the most genocidal of racist speech.
What they’ve got wrong is that there isn’t a free speech issue here. Free speech is about not being prosecuted by your government for expressing your views. A private company is not obliged to give platforms to racists in the name of free speech. If a private company willingly gives a platform to racists, then they should be prepared to have their reputation suffer accordingly. No-one would be denying the racists of Reddit their constitutional rights to free speech by banning them from the website. Just like you couldn’t go running to the Supreme Court if you were ejected from a houseparty for being racist.
So let’s imagine Reddit is indeed a giant houseparty taking place in a great sprawling mansion and see what a tour feels like, All the examples that follow are from real, heavily-upvoted Reddit Racism.
You arrive at the Reddit party. Food, drink and conversation flow and everyone seems really friendly and almost awkwardly polite. As you walk through the many rooms everyone seems to be having a good time, seems like a pretty great place. You join in a conversation: people are discussing an airline, one that has put in place a policy of not allowing unaccompanied minors to be seated next to adult males. The general opinion in the group is that this is ridiculous: How likely is it for a child to be placed next to some predator? Then one of the group says:
Your eyes bulge. Everyone bursts out laughing.
Someone adds: “That’s why they should be moved to the back of the plane!” More laughter. You reel with the shock, and back away.
Shaken from the encounter you decide to go round the party to listen in to some more conversations. And you start to notice a pattern: polite, friendly conversation, corny jokes. And never a missed opportunity to say something racist. Most of the time the racism goes unchallenged, is laughed at, is agreed to, is celebrated and is the spark to whole new threads of racist conversation.
“I asked my dad if he was racist” you hear said, “he told me he doesn’t hate black people, just niggers”
A whole group of people are agreeing that black people don’t tip. “Fucking truth. Here in Detroit, even the black waiters and waitresses don’t want to serve black people because they know they don’t tip.”
You hear the same “joke” about ten times: “I’m not racist. Racism is a crime, and crime is for black people”
More and more of it, you think you’re going crazy.
Someone gathers a crowd, hushes them down and reads their haiku on the subject of slavery, to rapturous applause:
You run upstairs to try to find a quiet place to gather your thoughts. Instead you find a great room decked out like a church dedicated to the genocidal hatred of black people. On the walls are ridiculous caricatures of black people, with greatly oversized lips, eating fried chicken and watermelon. There’s a group in discussion, and the topic up for debate is “Why don’t we pay black women to have abortions?”.
“I have to find the host of this party” you think. “Have to tell him what’s going on here”.
When you find him, you tell him about the weird cult gathered to preach the hatred, exclusion and elimination of black people, here in his house. He seems unconcerned at the news.
“Rules? Surely they’re breaking the rules. What are the rules?”
“No child porn and no sharing of personal information? That’s it?”
“That’s it. We’re a place of free speech, and It’s not in our interest to make moral judgements.”
I leave you to make your own moral judgements on Reddit.