As an avid user of Reddit, I often first hear about news directly from the social networking website.
I’ve followed several major events in near real-time before even large news outlets could deliver, and I’ve felt the collective pain of a giant community when tragedies occur.
When I woke up Sunday June 12 and began perusing the site, I should have been reading about the details of the terrible shooting massacre that killed and injured so many innocents at a gay bar in Orlando, Fla. Instead, I found myself distracted by censorship and angry users.
I soon learned the moderators of the main news subreddit – a collection of articles with nearly 9 million subscribers – were actively deleting posts related to the shooting and banning users who submitted headlines or complained about the problem. A large topic the mods themselves created was full of deleted posts, including information on how people could provide blood donations for victims. The majority of the deleted content did not appear to violate the subreddit’s rules.
“What the hell?” I thought, soon learning I wasn’t the only person asking that question. My informal use of hell, in fact, pales in comparison to others’ thoughts and posts.
There were many proposed reasons, but the prevailing theory appeared to be the mods began deleting posts after finding out the killer was Muslim. That, combined with the fact the victims were part of the LGBT community, appeared to have caused mods to delete posts out of some fear of offending or appearing to be racist, xenophobic or homophobic rather than a duty to present the conversation as it is happening.
When lambasted by thousands about the censorship, mods posted a troubling message.
“If you think it’s more productive to cry about censorship than it is to discuss this horrifying event, we suggest you try another subreddit,” they wrote.
While I agree with the sentiment that the most pressing news was the Orlando massacre, this quick brush-off of censorship given the nature of the event is scary.
To me, the internet always has been a place of free thought and expression.
When something this terrible happens, people want to talk about it. If they’re prevented from doing so, the severity of the event is exacerbated.
Are we supposed to learn about an event, keep it to ourselves and go about our merry way?
That’s not a very encouraging thought.
Granted, Reddit is a corporation, and as we’ve learned nationally and locally – the rights for lesbians and gays in Springfield come to mind – business owners tend to skew toward their own personal beliefs of what’s right when determining how to face any given issue.
Prior to local voters last year repealing the city’s ordinance placing sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes on Springfield’s nondiscrimination policy, some business owners spoke up about their religious or employer rights seemingly trumping certain human rights. The same can be said of the subreddit mods – who are in a position of power – squashing conversation to correspond with their own ideals/perceptions.
This isn’t the first instance of censorship on Reddit. In the past, the website has removed entire subreddits some deemed offensive. An official post from one Reddit higher-up indicated the news subreddit drama was concerning, but little was changed other than the removal of a single mod and a slight algorithm shift to better circulate topics on the front page of Reddit.
As a business, Reddit can present itself however it wants. But for a site that bills itself as “the front page of the internet,” this is unacceptable. According to Amazon subsidiary Alexa, Reddit is the 27th most-viewed website globally, but its users certainly aren’t required to keep visiting.
Like social news networking website Digg before it, Reddit is in real trouble of a mass exodus if this kind of behavior continues.
Rather than distract from the issue with needless censorship, let all viewpoints be discussed. It’s in the best interest of the internet.
Springfield Business Journal Web Producer Geoff Pickle can be reached at email@example.com.