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Monday, September 08, 2014

Is Reddit A "Failed State"?

I can agree that Reddit is run by something like "warlords," I suppose -- by which I mean merely to note that it is driven by the libertechbrotarian subculture that once suffused the entire web and remains a noisy noisome minority with delusions of prevalence and viability. But Reddit as an online networked formation is so far from statelikeness that to call it a "failed state" is to court a misconstrual nearly as radical as any contention its bullying bigots might hold that they are making a successful go at freedom. Culture isn't government, so there are category errors lurking in such glib formulations -- which is pretty commonplace when so-called "libertarians" are making noises. T.C. Sottek implies in a recent piece in The Verge that Reddit wants to think of itself as a government in some sense, but that would be an impossible thing for them to be and hence a stupid thing for them to want to be, quite apart from the fact that I don't see much evidence that they really want to be anyway. If Reddit facilitates crimes they will discover soon enough, like generations of cocksure libertechbrotarians before them, that cyberspatial boasts to the weary giants of flesh and steel that "You have no sovereignty where we gather," don't particularly cut the mustard. There are moments, to be sure, when Reddit seems to want to seem a principled and respectable enterprise, although hardly in any really consistent way. And there is no question that Reddit attracts reactionaries and is run by enough reactionaries that they are slow to grasp that any aspirations to sustainable mainstream profitability are threatened by the reactionaries. Reddit has attracted eyeballs longer than I expected it to, so I have no predictions to make about all that. I must say I have always personally found the place pretty gross and dumb for the most part, and Sottek's exposures confirm longstanding impressions.

T.C. Sottek, "Reddit is a failed state: The 'front page of the internet' is run by warlords":
Reddit wants to be a techno-libertarian's wet dream, but in practice its a weak feudal system that's actually run by a small group of angry warlords who use "free speech" as a weapon. Reddit is mostly a nice place filled with nice people who run nice little communities, but there's virtually nothing keeping them safe from bullies like "John," a 33-year-old man who brazenly dispersed stolen private photos and then cried foul when The Washington Post published information about him. Reddit's government is more interested in protecting John than the women he harassed. [CEO Yishan] Wong wrote that "the role and responsibility of a government differs from that of a private corporation, in that it exercises restraint in the usage of its powers." Forgiving for a moment the fact that this statement is completely wrong, Reddit's justification for this special type of behavior is incoherent since it does exercise its powers to censor content and protect people, unless they are victims... Last time the company found itself here it was dealing with negative press over a couple of seedy communities that were distributing "creepshots:" sexualized photos taken of women, often in awkward or compromising positions, without their knowledge. Reddit allowed this to go on for some time, but only brought out the big guns when Gawker revealed the creepshot ring leader was a 49-year-old man named Michael Brutsch, because Reddit believes in free speech as long as it protects the unsavory men who keep exploitative content flowing. Even charities won't accept money from these men, but Reddit will. According to a report from Recode, Reddit's free speech zone, where men run wild over women's privacy and dignity, may be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million. If Reddit wants to be thought of as a government, we'll call it what it is: a failed state, unable to control what happens within its borders. At minimum, Reddit is a kleptocracy that speaks to lofty virtues while profiting from vice.

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