On Reddit, racism, sexism still thrive

Reddit prides itself on free speech, but what about violence against women, racism and child pornography? One group takes aim at offensive content on Reddit.

Más Wired | October 9, 2012 | 8:53 pm
reddit

Editor’s note: This post contains some strong language.

Social connecting has been an integral part of the Internet since the UseNet days, but how much, or how little, to censor these discussions has been, too. However, the curious case of Reddit’s own r/shitredditsays (SRS) site raises questions as to where free speech and posting limits are. The site is part of Fempire’s project PANDA, an attempt by a vocal minority to draw public eyes to issues that the moderation and administrators seem to be avoiding.

Reddit, the self-dubbed “front page of the Internet” is an evolution of the forum structure found across the Internet. Loosely moderated from the start, it’s a community that is diverse and vehemently in support of free speech. Communities of all types exist within Reddit: city-based communities, support groups, entertainment groups, image-sharing communities, political forums for all leanings, architecturemale fashion, and classic films are among some of the diverse “reddits” that users can subscribe to.

Then there’s a collection of offensive and questionable content on multiple boards, ranging from voyeristic photography of women, pictures stolen from Facebook profiles for people to oogle, vehement racism, and other taboo subjects.

That’s where an online “neighborhood watch” steps in. ShitRedditSays, is a “shevil fempire”  with it’s own unique culture and motivation that co-exists in the Reddit world. Más Wired took some time to interview a moderator of this community, ArchangelleDworkin, to learn about the Fempire, its goals to focus the public’s eye on Reddit’s underbelly.

The SRS community has brought Reddit less-than-desired publicity in the past. There was the push to bring Reddit’s jailbait page to the eyes of the outside world for proliferation of child pornography; and its deletion after the now infamous Anderson Cooper segment was largely a SRS effort. Now on the Fempire’s agenda is Project PANDA, with the goal of returning the spotlight to Reddit’s other creepy outlets. SRS has a list of subreddits which PANDA focuses on, including more child porn, homophobia, and other distasteful content:

http://www.reddit.com/r/PhotoPlunder

http://www.reddit.com/r/CreepShots

http://www.reddit.com/r/Upskirt

http://www.reddit.com/r/picsofdeadkids

http://www.reddit.com/r/BeatingTrannies

http://www.reddit.com/r/BeatingWomen

http://www.reddit.com/r/LegalTeens

http://www.reddit.com/r/teenboobies

http://www.reddit.com/r/amateurteen/

As of this writing, these subreddits are active. Caution is advised if you are going to visit these sites — none are safe for work. Outside of PANDA, though, the Fempire does not have an overall goal, according to ArchangelleDworkin, one of the many moderators of the community:

SRS doesn’t have any goals except to laugh at people with terrible opinions. That’s it. Anything beyond that is bonus. SRS itself is not activism. It’s a space for activists to gather to blow off steam, and feel like they’re not outnumbered on reddit, the supposedly liberal website. Real life activism is hard work and burns out a lot of really good people. We’re like the chill zone for activists.

A look over SRS prime — that’s the main hub subreddit of the Fempire — shows that SRS does not have a unified goal. Instead, its users link to posts or comments which are found to be offensive, as well as how many upvotes (this is Reddit’s system which allows users to vote on whether or not the comment or post is good) the post or comment has received. The comments can range from casual racism to pedophilia apology, LGBT attacks — or even worse. The comments there aren’t serious, usually, and it isn’t this which has earned the Fempire the scorn of Reddit, according to ArchangelleDworkin:

SRS became Reddit’s boogeyman when we shut down r/jailbait, which was used explicitly for child pornography and sexualized images of underage girls. We caught them trading nude photos of a 14 year-old girl, forcing the admins to begrudgingly do actual work. SRS was blamed and a slew of myths popped up to make it seem like we were the ones behind not only the child pornography being traded, but the r/jailbait forum itself. This happened last October and Redditors have been trying to get us shut down ever since.

At SRS, we make fun of Straight Able-bodied White Cis Men. It’s a neat experiment that turns the social dynamic on its head, and most Redditors either don’t get it or refuse to believe it. They just label us as ‘feminazis’ and send us pictures of their d***s (which is supposed to intimidate us. I find it hilarious). Being the butt of the joke makes them uncomfortable since it’s a novel thing for them. They’ve never been attacked for who they are, so when we do it as jokes they get disproportionately mad.

To argue that Reddit isn’t bothered by SRS would be absurd. It clearly is, so much so that members have received death threats, and a user (someone ArchangelleDworkin called a “Neo-Nazi”) has composed a bot which serves one purpose: responding to threads that are linked to by SRS and “alerting” the original poster that the users have “targeted” their thread. It also will also check the past history of any SRS posters who commented in the thread and track their “Fempire loyalty.”

The creator thought he could destroy our board by making us really popular, hoping it would dilute the quality. Every time a Reddit sub before us would get popular, it would turn to crap. It backfired on him because our mod team and user base are amazing. We’re at 22.5k members and just as awesome, as we were a year ago at 1k.

SRS is something of a “neighborhood watch,” but ArchangelleDworkin says it’s much more:

Project PANDA is an attempt to gain the attention from the press about despicable practices on Reddit. The admins only act when under pressure from the media because they have an undeserved reputation to maintain. People flock to Reddit thinking it’s a safe fun social media site when in reality they cater to rapists, pedophiles and sexual offenders. There is no moderation and it’s exploited by the worst people.

There was a small movement during the Anderson Cooper report. After r/jailbait was banned, Reddit used it as proof that child porn was never being traded, and it was all a conspiracy by this small group of users. It was pathetic.

Reddit’s reputation as a liberal, open-minded place for free speech and thought is debatable. Although subreddits such as r/blackfathers exist, it was created as a joke — the “joke” being that nobody would post in it. SRS and other black subreddits tried to take control of it from the creator, and briefly succeeded, but the original creator requested r/blackfathers back, and got it. ArchangelleDworkin added that SRS is left alone by Reddit admins because they can’t delete it without violating their own free speech rules. Just to be sure, she said, there’s an alternate site being created as insurance, “for when the admins decide to delete us.”

Despite SRS’ work with PANDA, which so-far has made some noise in the news, ArchangelleDworkin does not feel that SRS really has an impact on Reddit.

I don’t think SRS has any effect positive or negative on Reddit at large. We’ve provided a space for a lot of users that have become disillusioned of Reddit’s self proclaimed liberalness, but otherwise Reddit operates on its own. Reddit has been on a steep decline because a lack of any type of moderation. No moderation both drives away good users and attracts terrible ones at the same time.

ArchangelleDworkin may be right — a look at the Reddits above is plenty of insight into the kinds of communities which grow around Reddit. It is not the whole of Reddit entirely, by no means, but the types of communities that quality for “free speech protection” tells us a lot about who runs the platform.

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