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Reddit Wields the Axe Against Web Hate Crime

In yet another example of just how powerful venture capital funding can be, it recently influenced a major decision from one of the internet’s top companies.

In the process, the company silenced one of America’s most sacred civil rights – freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

Now, you’d think such a scenario would prove highly controversial and have millions of Americans spitting mad.

But not in this case. On the contrary, actually…

Reddit Takes a Stand Against Hate

Nowhere is freedom of speech more prevalent and powerful than the internet.

Sadly, it’s also a place for many people to blatantly abuse those rights and use it as a home to spread their garbage.

And Reddit has finally had enough of it.

The popular online news portal that styles itself as “the front page of the internet” and is one of the largest hubs of free speech on the web is getting tough on trolls.

The company has banned five particularly nasty groups from its pages – and more are sure to follow.

It’s a strong, decisive move, for sure. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Fifty million reasons, in fact…

A Marketplace for Good… and Evil

If you’re unfamiliar, Reddit is basically a chat website. Users can post article links and start conversations on just about anything – news, sports, technology, science… you name it.

Other users can then join conversations and vote for the topics and chats that they find the most interesting and enjoyable. The most popular ones become more prominent on the site, drawing still more participants.

For many, Reddit can be a valuable source of information-sharing – there are conversations about diseases, activism, social advice, and much more. Everyone from (then-presidential candidate) Barack Obama to Madonna has hosted a conversation on Reddit.

For others, it’s merely a fun way to pass the time on the internet.

But for a knucklehead minority, interactive portals like Reddit have become an outlet for their psychoses and insecurities.

I guess such circumstances come with the territory when operating a site dedicated to free speech. However, it’s one thing to believe that free speech protects even the most disgusting views from the clutches of government censorship… but another thing entirely when you find yourself actually hosting and paying for such bile.

And that’s the situation in which Reddit finds itself…

Trolls… or Just Sadists?

Ever since the very beginnings of the internet, the creators of online forums have remained dedicated to free speech. People could share information and opinions, and have them exposed to criticism, sparking debate and allowing for well-rounded conversation. The goal, of course, is for hard facts and sensible opinions to win the day.

Unfortunately, though, there are some truly hateful people in the world. And freed from the consequences of their actions by the internet’s shield of anonymity, hiding behind a keyboard and monitor, these awful people can say a lot of awful things.

The internet term for people who spread hate, mock others, or advocate certain positions just to make others angry is “trolls.”

But academic researchers have another term – sadists.

A study by Canadian psychologists confirmed that the mentality of trolls is highly correlated with psychological profiles that identify them as sadists.

In everyday interactions, sadists don’t get much opportunity to enjoy their psychosis. Someone savagely “trolling” in the workplace or a public place would quickly find themselves unemployed, beaten up, in jail, or worse.

But on the internet – where anonymity is the rule, rather than the exception – sadists are freer to indulge in their behaviors. What’s more, people who haven’t protected their anonymity have found themselves harassed in their real, offline lives by internet trolls, simply for making statements and opinions that idiots don’t agree with.

So Reddit has taken action…

Haters’ Days on Reddit Are Numbered

The subject of limiting free speech is a very sensitive one. But in this case, it’s not a matter of asking the government to ban speech. Rather, it’s merely deciding that such hateful speech, though legal, wasn’t appropriate on the virtual “property” of Reddit’s owners.

So the company banned five conversation groups that had, in its opinion, crossed the line of free speech and into harassing individuals, instead. To give you an idea, the largest one was called “Fat People Hate” – a group dedicated to posting pictures of fat people and then mocking them.

However, many other offensive groups were left behind – ones focusing on racism, sexism, and advocating sex with children.

Unsurprisingly, trolls go insane when their ability to harm others is threatened. That’s why I’m so convinced that Reddit will end up banning many other groups… because the people in them will increase their bad behavior until Reddit has no choice.

Now, I wish I could say that Reddit’s sole motivation here is down to basic human decency and “doing the right thing.” But that’s unlikely. Here’s why…

Money Talks

Historically, Reddit adopted a very cautious approach to making money, relying primarily on premium memberships for revenue.

But having recently raised $50 million in venture capital funding, those venture capitalists will want a return on their investment.

And that probably means through advertising.

Needless to say, reputable brands don’t want to be associated with anything too controversial. Seeing their company’s name in a newspaper article about how racists are running rampant on the internet is a PR department’s worst nightmare.

So Reddit’s move to purge vile trolls – while commendable – is also probably about money.

In a sense, this is the best outcome. Giving the government power to ban speech – even offensive, hateful speech – is fraught with danger. It’s better to let the marketplace of ideas sort things out. And if the sources of those ideas have to make themselves respectable in order to “graduate” into the big leagues of the internet, like Reddit, so much the better.

And having been kicked out of their online home, hopefully these trolls won’t find a new one somewhere that you currently enjoy visiting.

To living and investing in the future,

Greg Miller

 

Greg Miller

, Senior Analyst

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