Years ago, I was in a vehicle headed to a state park in Kentucky to go camping with a group of friends. As I looked around from my seat, I asked, “Wait, do we all know each other from Reddit?” A friend replied, “Yes, you’re going camping in the woods with random people you met off the Internet. You know, that thing your mother told you not to do.”
Whenever I moved to new cities, Reddit meetups were one of the many ways I’d meet new people. Reddit was once an amazing microcosm of vastly different viewpoints spanning tens of thousands of communities. In the past several years, it has abandoned its original vision, driving out verboten viewpoints in the name of safety and social justice. It’s embrace of censorship has converted the platform from a hivemind into an echo chamber. Once a small backwater site like 4chan, Reddit has grown to embrace big tech censorship, and has morphed itself into a website with a very narrow acceptable range of views. It has become an extremist forum, just as terrible as the platforms that were created by its dissidents.
Orange Man Broke the Internet
In 2016, I returned to the United States after spending eleven months living out of two bags. It had been five years since I left America. Arriving during an election season seemed like a terrible idea, and I did my best to ignore the entire election cycle. Except for one primary, I avoided nearly all election coverage. I was unprepared for the absurdly insane anger and hatred following the election. At the time, a popular subreddit called /r/TheDonald had been a hotbed for pro-Trump election news and memes. The tech industry went into a bizarre self-flagellated panic, with industry leaders like Google telling their employees they did not do enough to prevent the political opposition from getting elected1. What followed was a new era in corporate, big tech censorship, with Reddit being one of the many websites that destroyed their platform and alienated half their userbase, in order to promote the propaganda of their leadership.
The Events of 2020
The mind virus of 2020 brought along with it, an unprecedented amount of censorship on nearly every part of the Internet. Reddit, once a website that allowed for discourse, arguments and the free flow of ideas, turned even further into a platform where dissent was intolerable. Living in Chicago at the time, I posted the following in a thread regarding my concerns over personal freedoms and human rights.
In another thread, I made an appeal to the United States Constitution as a defense against authoritarian measures. I was met with a response from farbtoner stating “Looking to a document written before the popular adoption of germ theory for guidance during a pandemic is… an interesting route to take.”2.
In August of 2021, there was a call to delete subreddits spreading any messages that didn’t match the prevailing media narrative, and ban accounts that participated in such communities3. This call was echoed by hundreds of communities, including those which had nothing to do at all with politics or medicine such as /r/pics4.
Of course, I was banned for my posts to /r/chicago:
Banned From Everything
On the 6th of January, 2022, I was banned from /r/iamatotalpieceofshit. It was a subreddit I had never even heard of, nor have I ever visited or posted in.
The reason given was my participation in “disinformation subreddit[s]”. The moderator message called for me to delete such comments in order to remove the ban. Later that month, I was banned from /r/pics, presumably by the same moderation script.
The next week I was banned from /r/atheism, a subreddit I hadn’t visited or participated in for years.
I was also banned from /r/woahdude:
I was still using Reddit into 2022, but not much. I had already deleted my social media. When I did use Reddit, I refused to censor myself. I occasionally participated in communities that still allowed some form of critical discussion. Doing so, I occasionally got the flowing “Reddit Cares” messages5. I never posted anything to indicate I was in mental distress. I can only assume users misused this Reddit feature as a childish means to attack users they disagreed with.
Reddit became increasingly filled with toxic people. More than once, I’d see a user go into someone’s post history in a disagreement, just to call out other posts and comments they’ve made as a form of personal attack.
Erasing All My Previous Contributions
It wasn’t just that I was banned from participating further in some communities. Moderators used automated scripts to delete my previous posts. Content that was entirely unrelated to my current opinions, some with hundreds of upvotes, are now gone.
I can only imagine that thousands of people who refused to submit to the groupthink of the 2020s, had years of contributions, posts and comments removed entirely from Reddit. In the past, I’d often read from the bottom, in order to see controversial posts first. However, now even posts that were totally unrelated, including support for products, programming tutorials, or pop culture discussions, have been entirely erased from the past, over individual user’s disagreements on how society is handling the present.
The API Wars
Much of the Internet we use today was not built by the big platform companies, but by lots of independent developers building small tools to connect different websites together6. In April of 2023, Reddit announced they would start charging a fee for using their Application Programming Interface (API)7, used by many developers to create custom Reddit apps8. Apollo, a popular Reddit mobile application, informed its users that the new pricing would cost them over $1.7 million per month, far exceeding their subscription revenue9.
To protest the API fees, many moderators set their subreddits to private, meaning people couldn’t post or view content. This would cause Reddit to lose advertising revenue. Reddit started to reopen dark communities by removing the moderators participating in the strike10. This protest ultimately failed. Moderators who made their communities private were threatened with losing their moderation abilities11, and ultimately capitulated to Reddit’s corporate demands12. The Apollo client announced they would close down their app on June 30th13.
When Twitter started, it only supported 140 character posts. It depended on services like Twitpic to expand what it could offer. After Twitter added their own image support, they went after Twitpic over trademark issues. Twitpic ultimately shut down in 201414. The Reddit API fees followed in the footsteps of Twitter’s own API pricing changes just weeks prior15.
Hostilities to third party developers is nothing new. In 2013, Falcon Pro reached it 100,000 user limit for its Twitter API key. It was removed from the Google Play store, even for users who had paid for it. It was released for free by the developers, but required people to manually install the app outside of the Play store and create their own API keys16.
It’s not unusual for big websites to turn on the people who contributed tools to help them grow and make them popular. I suspect Reddit had already shed a large portion of its userbase for the actions taken by communities and moderators during the events of 2020. If their moderator base hadn’t become so authoritarian and run off so many users, would their protest against the Reddit API changes have been successful? Who knows. But the general direction the site had taken over the past few years has only reduced community support.
I’m old enough to remember when Digg released version 4 (v4) of their popular link ranking site. A predecessor to Reddit, Digg had a similar system where people could submit stories and “dig” or “bury” posts. Digg v4 was an unmitigated disaster which removed post histories, points and attempted to push readers towards integration with social media where you rank the stories of friends versus random people on the Internet17. It’s what causes a mass exodus from Digg’s smooth and sleek Web 2.0 design, to Reddit that sported a classic 90s clobbered mess.
People left Digg for Reddit, not due to censorship, but just due to basic usability. It was a different time, both on the web, and in tech culture. The masses stuck to MySpace and Yahoo, while many explored websites the same way we use to explore nature. Today people rarely explore ideas, much less entire websites. They often limit themselves to solitary links on social media, which lead directly to a video, article or blog post.
Through the banning of comments, subreddits and thoughts, Reddit has not only become a toxic community, but it has also driven many of its moderates and centrists onto other websites. For those who have absorbed and dedicated themselves to the orthodoxy narrative of the current era, their views are entirely reinforced. They cheer when people who oppose their viewpoint, by spreading misinformation, are banned. Moderators are rewarded perversely for stifling ideas, because those ideas are viewed as dangerous. Much of the remaining userbase of Reddit probably doesn’t even realize the extend to which the entire site has been censored. Posts that may have contributed insights to a variety of topics, from the technical to the philosophical, have been retroactively removed, not due to their content, but due to which subreddits their authors have contributed too. Reddit, like Twitter, is effectively erasing the past.
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” -George Orwell, 1984
Over the years, I’ve made a lot of friends from Reddit meetups. The city specific subreddits have helped me greatly in the past when I’ve moved to new places. But those times are long gone. Reddit is now an echo chamber of uniformity. Its rules ban everything about what made it fun and engaging. In a misguided attempt to fight misinformation, Reddit has essentially become a left-wing version of Voat, Gab or Parlor. It is nothing more than a cesspool of alt-left authoritarianism and hate. Its users, like so many people on the hard-left, lack any real self-awareness to their own hypocrisy and totalitarian views they now embrace.
LEAKED VIDEO: Google Leadership’s Dismayed Reaction to Trump Election. 12 Sep 2018. Bokhari. Breitbart. ↩
We call upon Reddit to take action against the rampant Coronavirus misinformation on their website. r/vaxxhappened. 25 August 2021. ↩
We call upon Reddit to take action against the rampant Coronavirus misinformation on their website.. 25 August 2021. /u/cwenham. /r/pics. Archive ↩
Someone on Reddit disagrees with you. That obviously means you must be depressed. This is ideological gaslighting.. 14 September 2021. @firstname.lastname@example.org ↩
📣 Had a call with Reddit to discuss pricing. Bad news for third-party apps, their announced pricing is close to Twitter’s pricing, and Apollo would have to pay Reddit $20 million per year to keep running as-is.. 31 May 2023. u/iamthatis /r/apolloapp ↩
Reddit forcibly breaks strike; this is an uninvestable company!. 16 June 2023. Louis Rossmann. ↩
Imagine that. Mods who have for years banned people for arbitrary reasons may find themselves removed from their subs for seemingly arbitrary reasons. 20 June 2023. NoRecognition84 via @VD15@pl.valkyrie.world. Mirror ↩
What pisses me off about the failed Reddit protest…. 19 June 2023. Louis Rossmann ↩
Apollo will close down on June 30th. Reddit’s recent decisions and actions have unfortunately made it impossible for Apollo to continue. Thank you so, so much for all the support over the years.. 8 June 2023. @ChristianSelig. ↩
Twitpic really is doomed after failed acquisition attempt. 17 October 2014. Miners. PCWorld. ↩
Death By API: Reddit Joins Twitter In Pricing Out Apps. 1 June 2023. Collins. Forbes. ↩
Falcon Pro updated with workaround for Twitter tokens. 3 July 2013. Cipriani. CNet. ↩