Monday, 3 September 2012

What is Reddit FOR Exactly?

Normally, I confine this blog to articles dealing with all aspects of religion, science as it relates to the claims of religion, and occasionally to UK politics, so this is something of a departure. However, since if appears to be impacting on Atheism, or at least the ability of Atheists to promote their blogs to the widest possible readership, I feel justified in writing this blog about what seems to be a very recent change in Reddit's policy.

This change seems to have been made with a minimum of publicity, even secrecy. One is tempted to relate this change to the American presidential election race, though perhaps I'm making 2+2=5 there. It only came to light as a result of a leak reported on Forbes entitled Reddit Reportedly Banning High-Quality Domains posted in June 2012 but so far completely ignored in Reddit.

Within the past 24 hours, user-contributed link aggregator compiled a "secret list" of banned domains—including such reputable news sites as The Atlantic, Business Week, PhysOrg and ScienceDaily. But the controversy doesn't end there.

Reddit user and moderator violentacrez brought the issue to light in a post titled, "Reddit is now banning entire high-quality domains, using an unpublished list"
"reddit admins enabled a new feature where links from domains on a secret list cannot be posted, even by moderators, even in their own reddits."


One of the reasons behind the censorship is that it isn't being seen by reddit staff as censorship. The banned domains have been linked to accusations of reddit users "gaming the system," or having financial ties to the promoted links. "Spamming" and "Cheating" were the catchwords for getting these site-wide domain bans in place—but this so-called spam differs vastly from the typical junk you see floating around the "new" section that is downvoted by users, featuring sketchy domain names and topics ranging from cheap prescriptions to racy photos of Bollywood celebrities, etc. Cheating, refers to hammering "fake" upvotes from bots on a network of proxied IP addresses, sometimes allowing the submitted link to reach the front page without the curation of real reddit users.

So, what has all this got to do with Atheism and me in particular?

Well, it seems this domain is one of those banned by Reddit. I only suspect this because every link posted to this blog in the last few days is invisible to anyone but the poster. From getting several hundred hits from Reddit readers a day, the hit rate has fallen to precisely zero.

I have never been given a reason for this and have never been given the opportunity to appeal it. It seems too that any attempt to discuss this or seek an explanation gets others an instant ban too, as Plasma Engineer reported in his Something Surprising blog.

And all of this seems to have been due to the efforts of one particular Reddit user who calls him/herself Iesvs (it doesn't take a genius to work out the mindset behind that username), who seems to have developed an obsession with me, routinely reporting every link and every comment and spamming me with obscenities. (I'll assume he's male, though I apologise to any normal males who may understandably be offended by that assumption).

Looking at Iesvs's contributions, I am not the only Atheist to get this treatment. His contribution to debate is almost wholly confined to one or two lines of personal abuse consisting of sexually explicit and scatological references unrelated to the post he is commenting on or the comment he is replying to, especially to posters whom he believes to be female.

The only other thing he ever posts about is his prowess at getting people banned which seems to be his entire raison d'etre judging by the time he devotes to it. In fact, he appears to be semi-literate at best and obsessed with preventing people promoting their blogs and with other people reading them. Why this should be such a concern for his is probably not hard to judge.

But, Iesvs and his personality problems aside, it is a mystery why Reddit should have adopted this policy of secret censorship, especially in view of its declared opposition to SOPA posted here. Quote:

Today, the US House Judiciary Committee has a hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA. The text of the bill is here. This bill would strengthen copyright holders' means to go after allegedly infringing sites at detrimental cost to the freedom and integrity of the Internet. As a result, we are joining forces with organizations such as the EFF, Mozilla, Wikimedia, and the FSF for American Censorship Day.

Part of this act would undermine the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act which would make sites like reddit and YouTube liable for hosting user content that may be infringing. This act would also force search engines, DNS providers, and payment processors to cease all activities with allegedly infringing sites, in effect, walling off users from them.

This bill sets a chilling precedent that endangers everyone's right to freely express themselves and the future of the Internet. If you would like to voice your opinion to those in Washington, please consider writing your representative and the sponsors of this bill:

The only 'offence' I can think I've committed is promoting my own blogs there. Perhaps naively, I had assumed that was what Reddit was for, and it certainly encouraged it in it's early days. If this is an offence then it must rate as one of the more bizarre on the Internet. Who on earth writes a blog to keep it secret and which blogger doesn't go to some length to promote their blog?

Surely, the ethos of Reddit is that people are free to read whatever is recommended to them or not, as they wish. It's not as though posting a link with a brief description of what the blog is about is actually pushing a product or putting up some in-your-face advert for something. It's merely putting a link in a list and saying, "I've written this. Read it if you want to and comment if you wish!"

But perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe Reddit is where people come to read obscenities and scatological references by unemployable semi-literate retards who think their importance is measured by the trouble they can cause to others and who seem to think it's a sign of being grown up to be sexually explicit and talk about poo when your mum is not looking.

It's a shame a once valuable Internet resource seems to value these contributors above all others as they try to reach down to the lowest common denominator and cater for those who take offence at words of more than two syllables and regard civilised debate as highbrow and elitist.

What use is an Internet aggregator site which bans blogs and news feeds when there is an almost infinite number of other sites where one can post infantile pictures, favourite quotes and obscenities too if so minded.

It makes this statement in Reddit's own blog on how to create a subreddit somehow ring hollow:

Subreddits are a free market. Anyone can create a subreddit and decide how it is run. If you disagree with how a subreddit is moderated, it’s good to first reach out to the team directly through moderator mail. Singling out moderators through reddit creates more drama than constructive change (reminder: posting personal information will not be tolerated). If you are unable to resolve your grievances with the current moderation team of a subreddit, the best response is often to create a competitor and see if the community follows you. In the rare cases of mismoderation, some of the most successful subreddits ever have cropped up overnight in response.

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