The problem is that Reddit has been trying to sell a false bill of goods to investors all this time […] This is the idea that you can build a functional community without having to spend any money or effort to manage it—that it just happens spontaneously through the “wisdom of crowds.” The Web 2.0 dream has always been to outsource all of the hard jobs to your users—that unpaid enthusiasts will do all the work of creating your content, curating your content, and promoting your content out of love, and all you have to do is pay some techies to keep the lights on.


Reddit’s core feature, the upvoting/downvoting system, is rooted in the hope that democracy can replace curation—that if everyone who sees a comment is allowed to throw a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on it, the cream will rise to the top and the shit will sink out of sight without anyone having to do anything.

As a result, Reddit, with a userbase of millions and ambitions to be the “front page of the Internet,” is managed almost entirely by thousands of unpaid, sometimes anonymous volunteers and has an actual staff of less than a hundred people, all of whom are required to live in San Francisco in the name of efficiency […]

We can see how well that’s worked out. In practice, the ability of anyone to spawn their own subreddit plus the upvoting/downvoting mechanism leads to each subreddit being an angry little fiefdom fiercely dedicated to its own idea of consensus where dissenting opinions get downvoted into oblivion.


This is a consistent problem not just for Reddit but for the whole Web 2.0 ethos. This denial that managing a community is hard work, this culture that makes millionaires of the “makers” who write the code for social media platforms but pays the “maintainers” who spend every day keeping them usable minimum wage or nothing at all.

–Arthur Chu on the Reddit scam.

Reddit is Exhibit A in the case against bullshit libertarian ideas about self-regulating free speech.

Another long quote, but Chu’s entire article is great. He also makes the interesting point that one of the biggest problems facing Reddit right now is growth. Essentially, the site has tapped out the “misogynistic, racist, asshole” market, and needs to start attracting other population segments in order to grow and (heaven forbid) become profitable.

The only problem is that because Reddit is so attractive to said asshole market, it’s decidedly unattractive to everyone else. This is not a unique problem; League of Legends faced the same one in the infamously terrible MOBA space. Unlike Reddit, LoL decided evicting assholes from its servers was the better part of a long term growth strategy. The result? It’s now the most-played PC game in the world. LoL is pretty unrepentant about both identifying and training out bad behaviour, as well as banning repeat offenders. One of the fascinating/terrifying things about LoL’s experience is that a really, really common refrain they get from people suspended for offensive conduct–calling people slurs in game, for the most part–is that the people who engage in these behaviours have never been told they’re inappropriate.

Just think about that for a moment. Think about a generation of young men–and it’s almost always men–who are growing up in online spaces where calling people “n****r” and “f****t” is so normalised that it’s never challenged.

This, my friends, is the end result of the ideology incarnated by places like Reddit. Because the notion that communities will “naturally police” themselves relies on the idea that someone else is teaching the members of those communities what is “policeable” material. There’s a whole craptonne of assumptions to unpack in there, around socialisation and cultural norms and whatnot, the least of which is what happens to people when all they’ve ever experienced are these online communities built around the survival of the cruelest?

That’s a rhetorical question. We know exactly what happens. We know, and we–by which I mean, everyone who chooses not to engage with these spaces–want nothing to bloody well do with it.

And, by extension, more and more people are deciding they want nothing to do with Reddit, either.

The reality is, that for all its ideological hype, Reddit is both tiny (by the metrics of social media sites), and it’s unprofitable. Its ideology is unprofitable, its business model unsustainable outside of the fever dreams of the sort of people who desperately wish it was. Reddit is 4chan backed by venture capital. If it wants to grow, it needs to change. But I think it’s become pretty clear Reddit is its own worst enemy in that regard.

Change or die, Reddit. And if you don’t? Well. The rest of us won’t miss you.