To be honest, I don't use Reddit. The men's rights activists who dominate the San Francisco-based message board site will take great pleasure in knowing that I had to turn to my boyfriend to help me navigate the endless pages peppered with racism, fat-shaming, and old-fashioned misogyny.
Founded in 2005 by two 22-year-old men, the site is now one of the top 10 most visited websites in the United States with 160 million monthly visitors, the majority of whom are men ages 18-29.
My boyfriend told me that though Reddit has always been a boys' club, he was first introduced to the site by a girl. She liked the platform's large user base and breadth of content, despite the fact that every post she made resulted in a handful of comments asking if she bleached her asshole or liked to suck cock.
Reddit is like Facebook's shadow self, swapping overzealous regulations for die-hard free speech. Newsfeeds are based entirely on the popularity of content. Unlike other social networking sites, Reddit does not require a user to create a profile or even have an email address to post or link to content. The loose parameters of the site allow for the free exchange of information in a way that is becoming increasingly rare inside the surveilled internet culture of today — a valuable tool for revolutionaries and skeeze-balls alike.
Reddit caught heat in 2012 for the controversial subreddit /r/jailbait, which featured provocative pictures of teenage girls, and had been previously chosen as “subreddit of the year” in a 2008 user poll. In 2013, the site was criticized for another more-than-questionable subreddit, /r/Creepshots, which was exactly what it sounds like: nonconsensual photos of women's bodies taken by strangers.
Both these forums have since been shut down, but just last year, dozens of nude celebrity photos were leaked on the notorious subreddit /r/TheFappening, and two subreddits served as think-tanks for GamerGate, the internet-wide controversy over sexism within the videogame industry that resulted in many prominent female gamers receiving death threats.
Reddit's name returned to the headlines when its female interim CEO, Ellen Pao, resigned after facing brutal backlash from users in what is being described as an online revolt. After implementing Reddit's first-ever harassment policy in May, resulting in the closure of five subreddits devoted to transphobia, racism, and fat-shaming (including the incredibly popular /r/FatPeopleHate, which boasted over 150,000 subscribers), users responded by flooding the site with personal attacks on Pao, demeaning pictures of fat people, as well as criticism and complaints about the new policy. New subreddits devoted entirely to attacking Pao were formed, including /r/EllenPaoHate, and /r/EllenPaoIsaCunt. Rather than see the site continue to be hijacked by the controversy, Pao resigned and one of the original founders, Steve Huffman, took her place. Reddit may have had to shut down some of its most beloved abusive communities, but they got their way with Ellen Pao, and a woman is no longer in charge of their special boys club.
When Victoria Tayler, who ran the popular “ask me anything” subreddit, was mysteriously let go last month, Reddit users turned on Pao with a new vengeance, making many of the most popular subreddits private and rendering the site nearly useless for new users. Rather than see the site continue to be hijacked by the controversy, Pao resigned, saying that her time at Reddit, while mostly positive, had “made [her] doubt humanity.”
Of course, #NotAllRedditUsers are preoccupied by perpetuating abuse and harassment, but it is worth noting that while the subreddit /r/Feminism has over 50,000 subscribers, only 45 of them are currently active. In contrast, the vehement anti-feminist subreddit, /r/TheRedPill, has double the subscribers and 20 times the active users, exemplifying what executives like Pao already knew: The climate of Reddit is disenfranchising certain users, rather than encouraging them to share their ideas freely, as was intended.
But the site has also harnessed its power to accomplish incredible things — raising tens of thousands of dollars for charities like Doctors Without Borders and even Planned Parenthood. As Facebook and Google continue to claim and surveil our every move, anonymous platforms like Reddit can be powerful tools. But in light of the most recent Reddit-wide revolts, I imagine that the small contingency of social-justice-minded users will continue to abandon Reddit as their voices are drowned out.