Voat is a link aggregation platform, where users can submit text or links to content, comment on existing submissions and vote both links and comments up or down. It’s essentially a Reddit clone, but, due to several bad design decisions, it has become known on the rest of the Internet as a community that promotes intolerance and hate speech. Voat didn’t start this way, and many of its early users were similar to those in the communities on other social networks. But due to a series of design decisions, including its contributor point systems, Voat was constructed in such a way as to converge on narrow view points and become the platform that it is today.
CCP - The Means to an Echo Chamber
A part of Voat’s design, that was intended to prevent abuse, was the concept of Comment Contribution Points or CCP. On platforms like Reddit, any user can vote articles up or down. The aggregation of those votes, combined with spam/robot filtering, and other secret ranking algorithms, decide where in a feed any given post is displayed and moved over time. On Voat, new users can only vote posts up, not down, until they’ve gained one hundred points for their own comments.
On the surface, this seems like a good idea to prevent abuse from new users. In reality, in order to gain the necessary points to be able to help rank other posts, a new user has to post things other people will want to vote up. If communities on Voat generally lean towards a certain view point, politically or intellectually, it encourages those with similar opinions to participate, while discouraging people with more complex views from contributing. This, combined with the various influxes of specific groups from Reddit, has led Voat to become a very focused mono-culture of select viewpoints.
Influx of ostricisied people
In 2015, Reddit banned the /r/fatpeoplehate community as part of their new anti-harassment policy1. The community /r/niggers had been banned previously, in 20132, and several controversial communities moderated by the user Violentacrez were banned in 20113, a year before Gawker revealed Violentacrez real life name and identity4.
“We stand for free speech. This means we are not going to ban distasteful subreddits. We will not ban legal content, even if we find it odious or if we personally condemn it. Not because that’s the law in the United States — because as many people have pointed out, privately-owned forums are under no obligation to uphold it — but because we believe in that ideal independently, and that’s what we want to promote on our platform. We are clarifying that now because in the past it wasn’t clear, and (to be honest) in the past we were not completely independent and there were other pressures acting on Reddit. Now it’s just Reddit, and we serve the community, we serve the ideals of free speech, and we hope to ultimately be a universal platform for human discourse.” -Tishan Wong, Statement by Reddit’s then-CEO in 2012
When these communities were banned, many of their users found their ways to other platforms and message boards. Voat was one of the platforms that started taking in people from banned Reddit communities, when it appeared on the scene in 2014. Where Reddit was once viewed as a platform with a myriad of ideas and viewpoints, from progressive to libertarian to conservative, the mid-2010s led to a time where Reddit administrators started to actively-police their platform.
“It’s not our site’s goal to be a completely free-speech platform. We want to be a safe platform and we want to be a platform that also protects privacy at the same time.” -Ellen Pao, Statement by Reddit’s Interim CEO in 2015
Reddit use to be a mix of wholesome and questionable. It had both cute cat pictures on the front page, and deep controversial conversations, about difficult topics, in the deeper non-default subreddits. Comment threads once contained a variety of opinions and ideas, from many different view points and walks of life.
While banning some of these communities may seem good on its surface, and Reddit is free to do whatever they want with their platform, the reality is that it has created a mono-culture. People with more controversial ideas no longer want to contribute content to a website which censors difficult topics. On the flip side, the communities people have migrated too only attract the controversial voices and, over time, tend to squeeze out the more progressive and moderate people; people who are also unhappy with the censorship of large platforms.
Too many subverses
When Reddit started, it didn’t have a concept of subcommunities. It was more similar to how HackerNews or Lobste.rs are today. Eventually, Reddit started to create sections or subreddits, and in 2008 Reddit allowed their user base to create their own subreddits5, which were managed and moderated by the users who created them.
In this way, Reddit grew out its subreddits gradually, and their userbase expanded to fill those communities with content. Voat launched with the ability for people to create subverses. The original developers believed one of the major issues with subreddits was that some users were moderators for several subreddits, sometimes tens or hundreds of them. These types of users were often accused of collecting administration privileges, as no one person would have the time to give individual attention to so many communities.
Voat limits each account to only controlling a small number of subverses. A user could still administer many communities, but he or she would need to go through the additional hassle of using multiple accounts. Because of the limits of Voat’s CCP system, each of those accounts would need to participate and build up CCP in order to have the ability to rank posts down within the communities.
Because Voat allowed for the creation of arbitrary subverses from the beginning of its existence, it is also filled with many abandoned subverses that haven’t had contributors for months or years. During moments of influx from Reddit, many users created the same communities they enjoyed on Reddit, but there simply weren’t enough other users to keep content populated in those subverses consistently. Reddit has several dead communities as well, but nowhere near the level of Voat’s.
Voat had some early noble goals, mostly surrounding the idea of free speech. It was similar to Reddit, and both started off as open source. Where Voat is written in C# and still open source, Reddit is written in Python and became closed source in 20176. Today, Voat is clearly a cesspool of hate, racism and extremist ideologies. Some of this is due to the influx of people who have lost their voices on other platforms. However, much of this also comes from the poor design around Voat’s CCP system which, like the American voting system, has led to a system that poorly represents the actual views of the majority of people.
Although I’ve focused on Reddit, since it’s directly comparable to the type of platform Voat is, Reddit isn’t alone in its attempt to police content. Twitter is actively trying to rewrite its history, and even major service providers have made decisions that have lead to effective censorship. The trouble with this type of platform restriction is that the opinions do not go away. Those who are removed from social media platforms often feel ostracized, angry and perhaps even vindicated in their persecution. They take to other platforms like Gab and Voat, where other like minded people validate those opinions. They leave larger Internet communities with a variety of voices that could potentially steer their own opinions in a more moderate direction.
This type of content restriction seems necessary for large platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube (Google) and others, in order to gain the trust of advertisers purchasing promotions on these platforms. It may benefit these large networks in the short term, and even be necessary to keep them profitable, or simply viable. However, the long term social effects of such policies could lead to large increases in polarization of people’s viewpoints and perceptions outside of the Internet. It can promote the relative safety of content in the short term, while chilling honest debates about more difficult topics, and eventually promoting a monopoly of ideas.
Reddit bans ‘Fat People Hate’ and other subreddits under new harassment rules. 10 June 2015. Robertson. The Verge. ↩
Does Anything Go? The Rise and Fall of a Racist Corner of Reddit16 July 2013. Todd. The Atlantic. ↩
Unmasking Reddit’s Violentacrez, The Biggest Troll on the Web. 12 October 2012. Chen. Gawker. ↩
An update on the state of the reddit/reddit and reddit/reddit-mobile repositories. 1 September 0217. KeyserSosa. Reddit. Retrieved 6 October 2019. ↩