Reddit is becoming its own worst enemy

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on November 1, 2013

From The News Desk

This week, the moderators of the subreddit r/Politics announced they would blacklist certain news organizations "to reduce the number of blogspam submissions and sensationalist titles." The list includes Gawker (which has been banned on Reddit for more than a year), Salon, the Huffington Post, Policy Mic, Fox News, Mother Jones, Media Matters, The Onion, the Borowitz Report, and, amazingly, Reddit (yes, Reddit banned itself).

What do they all have in common? According to r/Politics, they are either "blogspam," "sensationalism," or feature "low quality posts." Really, though, I think they feature work from writers who espouse their own authorial voice in ways that may, perhaps, not jibe well with the Reddit hive mind, at least in the opinion of its moderators.

If we look at this new Reddit edict as an indictment on journalism and position it somewhere inside the Glenn Greenwald/Bill Keller debate spectrum, it would err on the side of Bill Keller. That is, Reddit is asking posters to submit articles that portray just the "facts," and if a piece so much as hints at an opinion that doesn't reflect Reddit’s supposed ethos, bam it's out. Why, it’s the Wikipediazation of Reddit. Unfortunately this blacklist of a bizarre smattering of online voices doesn’t seem congruous with Reddit’s core values of creating an open and interesting dialogue, that “contributes to the conversation.”

Nevertheless, instead of focusing on the hypocrisy, let's look at what this creates: a Reddit-induced filter bubble. Reddit and its melange of voices has been working to create a space where people submit content that is voted up based on the “merits,” whatever that means. As the site has evolved, new criteria has been adopted about what, precisely, a Reddit merit is. This is just another chapter in this evolving story.

Now, instead of merely barring websites that ragged on Reddit or outright called out its hypocrisy because of these actions, it is claiming to introduce a new criterion called “quality,” which may or may not have to do with the source’s opinion on Reddit. And this gives r/Politics an even broader dominion of content control than ever before.

As blatant as this is, this move to ban more content is also indicative of new media consumption trends. As David Carr reminded us last week, while political maps are becoming more polarizing, so, too, are media ecosystems and what people are choosing as their sources of factual content. People are shielding themselves in glass-houses of their own rhetoric from sources that "may please them, but rarely challenge them."

Sound familiar, r/Politics? And how will this filter-bubble continue to evolve?

This would be a perfect time for a news site aimed at Reddit's faux-open-discussion mentality to take root. And such a thing has supposedly been in the works too. In April Anonymous announced it was going to launch its own news site called Your Anon News. It went so far as to launch an Indiegogo campaign that raised over $50,000 from elated Anonymous followers.

Yesterday, Gawker’s Adrian Chen tweeted a compelling question: where is it now? The Tumblr page dedicated to this alleged news network hasn't been updated in months, and Anonymous' twitter handle continues to link to other stories it finds interesting. What happened to that fifty grand?

I hope, at the very least, contributors receive their promised t-shirts.

Anonymous and Reddit are not the same entities, of course, but they share a common ideological goal of creating an egalitarian internet. Additionally, both are made up of a vastly distributed and nebulous group of “webizens.”

They claim to embody a certain set of normative ideas about how the web and the world should run, but the truth is that their organizations are so big the only thing that continues to keep their leagues whole is the rhetoric on which they were founded and their method of interacting with each other. For Reddit that’s open-sourced community making; for Anonymous it is abiding by and acting on what members view as fairness and justice. Their current actions don’t always match with past proclamations, and they don’t have to anymore -- they’ve already made themselves known.

So we’re left with a subreddit trying to adjudicate what its members can read, and the real irony isn’t its hypocrisy, but the fact that it creates precisely what Reddit set out to not make: a partisan microcosm.