Reddit drama: an interesting look at community values

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I bet social psychologists are having a field day with the Internet. I know nothing about the field, so I don’t know if there are thousands of papers about it already written or not, but there should be. I can’t image that we’ve ever had a period in history when more communities are being formed; they’re also being formed out in the open.

I’ve been involved in many different online communities over the years. I’ve already written before about the seeming decline of Reddit’s content… but this past week, something really interesting has happened. Reddit has had two major events occur that have caused it to be increasingly self-reflexive on the values and norms that the community desires for itself. This is particularly interesting because normally, cultural norms have to be observed, not codified. But here, we’re seeing completely open discussion about “The community says this is not okay.” It’s really interesting stuff.

Speed Issues

I won’t comment on the technical details involved, but Reddit has gotten significantly slower over the past few months. This is normal, as the community is growing. But it’s caused quite a bit of a stir lately. Many users are seeing increased loading times, error messages, missing posts, and various other problems.

What’s a user to do in this situation? Post about it. See the posts about the search feature, or posts about the slowdown.

For example, as I look for the links to these posts, I get this:

Our search machines are under too much load to handle your request right now. :( Sorry for the inconvenience.

Amusing. But unfortunate. The interesting part, though, is the backlash against the complaints. See this thread, “Reddit, fix your fucking users. They are unbearably bitchy.” (The cursing is emulating the posts made complaining about Reddit’s lack of speed.)

There’s a huge discussion about what it means to be part of a free online community. There’s a contingent of people who say that people aren’t entitled to complain, because Reddit is free. Another points out that complaining is better than silently leaving the site, and that while people don’t pay for Reddit accounts, the eyeballs Reddit users provide enable the site to make money.

Some choice comments:

Hey, my incredibly expensive Reddit subscription fees entitle me to 100% perfect service! LEAVE ME ALONE!

Man, I’ve been loving this particular strawman for over a decade now. Thanks for breaking out the classics.

The reality is that Reddit is a business. The owners get paid because the users keep coming back to the site. Having users bitch and moan is not a problem for the admins - this isn’t their personal blog, they’re not mopy teenagers who are gonna cut themselves when they see how mean people are being to them on the interwebs.

The problem for the admins is when users stop visiting Reddit altogether because of constant technical problems, or fishy administrative decisions about deleting threads, or too many spammers, or etc. They would much rather have us bitch about these things on the front page, create giant threads about them that keep thousands of posters and tens of thousands of readers engaged and on the site, and provide catharsis and a public forum to address the issues.

tl;dr: Reddit is a business, they’d rather have us complain than have us leave.

Meta-bitching about bitching time

The OP posted a well thought out comment simply suggesting that Reddit’s users should be polite and respectful when addressing each other and the people that make using this site possible, and 90% of the responses here just prove his point. It seems like people are more concerned with gaining comment karma by posting bad one-liners than actually participating in intelligent conversation.

Is anyone else absolutely done with the reddit user base? I mean… I was told that reddit was this great intellectual news aggregator that through the use of ‘karma’ was able to bad submissions off the front page.

Over the past few months I’ve been here all that has been up on the front page has been Glen Beck, Conan O’Brian, Tiger Woods, weekly “Reddit is slow” posts and now this Saydrah BS.

I’ll say what I said when Conan O’Brian was on the front page for a week longer then Haiti ever was: I DON’T CARE. The Reddit admins don’t think Saydrah has abused her power as a moderator. At the very least (I personally don’t think she is a spammer) go flame some of the other 1000000000000000 spammers on reddit FFS. This is boring uneducated dribble.


And more. Interesting stuff, overall. There’s still quite a few trash comments, though.

The Saydrah Situation

The other event involves a user named Saydrah. She’s been accused of promoting links on Reddit for money, and abusing her moderator powers in conjunction with those offenses. This has spawned a huge amount of discussion on if these actions were inappropriate or not. Here’s the first big thread. Then an AMA with moderators about their opinions. Lastly, Saydrah does an AMA herself and explains her side of the story.

I won’t show you a bunch of comments, only one. And it echoes my opinion on the matter:

Two things: Frankly, I don’t care if people are paid to submit links…if they’re interesting, I upvote. If not, I ignore them.

Second, I have lurked around AR and RA a fair amount, and consistently find myself thinking, “That’s a helpful and well-reasoned response! Oh, it’s Saydrah again!” Whatever else people may say, I feel that you at least do try to contribute positively to this site.

…I guess I don’t have a question, so I’ll just leave my un-asked-for opinion here.

There’s a lot more, on both sides of the conflict. Regardless, people are hashing it out.

Growth Hurts

There’s a reason they’re called “growing pains.” Change is always a painful time in any organism’s life, and even though there’s a lot of drama, the current Reddit staff can take pride that they’ve created something that’s so important to people that they feel the need to scream about it for hours. It’s unfortunate that their baby is being embroiled in a flamewar, but these things happen.

We’ll see what the community ends up deciding is acceptable. I’ve managed to not get involved in these particular conflicts, but it sure is interesting to watch!

Edit: Jen added some interesting links on my facebook feed: