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I was about to post a resounding “no,” but then this happened.

As Reddit has grown, we’ve seen additional examples of how unfettered free speech can make Reddit a less enjoyable place to visit, and can even cause people harm outside of Reddit. […]

Therefore, today we’re announcing that we’re considering a set of additional restrictions on what people can say on Reddit—or at least say on our public pages—in the spirit of our mission. […]

Similar to NSFW, another type of content that is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it, is the content that violates a common sense of decency. This classification will require a login, must be opted into, will not appear in search results or public listings, and will generate no revenue for Reddit.

I don’t quite know what to make of it. Sadly, social media companies profit greatly from spreading hate: as pretty much every work of fiction has shown, conflict catches our interest. The easiest way to generate conflict is to allow bigots to hang around; this generates a lot of content as they argue with non-bigots, as well as reinforce their own sunk costs by anomaly hunting. More content means more eyeballs and more advertising revenue, at least in the short term. Non-bigots don’t want to hang out with bigots, for obvious reasons, and after the initial rubbernecking over the carnage they’ll try to get out of Dodge. The only way to overcome this exodus is to grow to the point of becoming a necessity; if people pay a cost for not being on your network, then the two effects will somewhat balance out.

Hence why Facebook and Twitter are so lousy at dealing with harassment, the cost/benefit analysis says not to bother. So why then did Reddit choose to subsidize hatred?

Part of this may have been fear. These online bigots have been honing their ability to ruin lives for over a decade, to the point that there are how-to guides floating about. Other executives may have looked at the shitstorm that Ellen Pao received after she tried to clean up the place, and decided not to kick the hornet’s nest. There’s also the possibility that some people within the company are bigots.

But I suspect a lot of this is due to the First Amendment Fetish many Americans suffer from. They equivocate between “the government shouldn’t censor” and “no-one should censor,” to the point that they’ll tolerate bigotry in their own comment threads, spaces paid for on their own dime. I’m just as much against tyrannical government as the next person, but last I checked no private citizen can torture, jail, or otherwise restrict the rights of another citizen. Deleting that questionable comment on your website is not a form of tyranny.

Despite the title of her piece, Ellen Pao is hopeful. I’m not, at least in the short term.

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