I recently got into a discussion with my friend and former dissertation advisor about my strong and ever-growing antipathy towards Reddit. She described my feelings as “perplexing,” doubtlessly because I’ve been accused on more than one occasion and by more than one person (including her, in the nicest and most constructive ways possible) of being something of an apologist for trolls. Consequently I can see why it might seem odd that I’d maintain an uneasy ambivalence towards trolling but be rabidly judgmental about a site like Reddit, which is constantly being lauded (and lauding itself) for democratizing the internet, saving the world from SOPA, and delivering pizzas to the needy, all done for the loves (which I’ve just decided is the whiteknight equivalent of the lulz).
The thing is, though, Reddit irritates me. But not for the obvious reasons, namely the shameful number of subreddits that are either devoted to or permissive of rape jokes, racism, mysogyny, jailbait porn, etc. These things are objectively and demonstrably gross, and in the case of human shitbags Violentacrez and CreeperComforts, which our Chris Menning discussed earlier, outright illegal. The thing is, the site is large, and therefore contains multitudes. Just because some users are shitty doesn’t and shouldn’t mean the whole site is shitty.
So what’s my problem? The best way I can describe it is that Reddit –at least, the mass noun that many Redditors use when patting themselves on the back for being a unified, online force for good– reminds me of Bill Compton from True Blood. On the surface he looks like the good guy, especially in comparison to his nemesis (and later frienemy, and later friend, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves) Eric Northman, but deep down he’s just as dangerous as Eric — maybe more so, because at least Eric freely admits to being, and wanting to be, a fucking monster. At least, he did before he fell in love with Sooookeeeeeh, but again, ahead of ourselves. The point is that Eric doesn’t pretend to be anything he’s not. He tells us, by killing everyone. Bill on the other hand falls all over himself in the attempt to look noble, when really, he’s just as violent and bloodthirsty as Eric. It’s his unwillingness to accept or even acknowledge his dark side that make him such a disingenuous, and ultimately unlikable, character.
And so it is with Reddit. Like most open spaces on the internet, there are lots of things to appreciate about the site — but there’s also lots to condemn. The problem is that its most vocal proponents refuse to complicate their own mass noun, then play dumb when subreddits like those featured on Chris’ article find themselves in the blogosphere’s crosshairs. Call it the old “well it’s not my fault, I didn’t make those subreddits” excuse. And that’s true, it’s not fair to hold all users responsible for a handful of bad apples. Nor is it fair not to acknowledge that the bad apples exist, and at the very least call into question the efficacy –or ethics– of throwing around the mass noun as a synonym for goodness and light. The space, and therefore the mass noun, is contested — which…….of course it is, welcome to the internet. Welcome to the universe. But don’t sit around polluting the air with your smug, it makes you look like a vampire.