The people of Reddit aren't taking kindly to this straightforward new plea from the site's co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, questioning whether acts of sexism on the site have served to "belittle and ostracize" its female audience. Ohanian says "suddenly we are the cool kids," and so maybe Redditors need to cool it with the sexist comments — "with great power comes great responsibility" and all of that. To which, of course, some Redditors have already claimed that the powers that be at Reddit have crossed the line and that Ohanian "hates free speech"* because he doesn't think people should call women (or anyone else) terrible things on the Internet.
To be sure, Ohanian insists, "Diversity does not end at gender or sexuality or race," but he admits that Reddit "has largely been defined by not-poor straight white men over the years" — not to mention, we might add, creepshots and jailbait subreddits littered with lengthy sexist threads. Indeed, Ohanian prefaces his post on the occasion of last week's firing of developer Adria Richards, which led to a conversation about free speech and sexism in the tech world — a conversation that got pretty gross on Reddit. To which Ohanian asks: "Aren't we better than this? I’m not talking about the trolls. I'm talking about how many (otherwise reasonable-seeming) people I saw who were comfortable and self-righteous in calling a woman a bitch/cunt/etc from their Twitter, Hacker News, or, yes, reddit account." To which the nerds of Reddit appear to have replied: No. According to the Reddit reaction of the message, a plea for giving up the sexism once again appears to have failed under the guise of free speech. "I used to respect this dude..." writes one poster. Another says: "Well that was embarrassing. Is it OK if I call you a stupid cunt, Alexis? Because you sure looked like one in that article."
So, yeah, that didn't work.
Ohanian has suggested before that Reddit probably shouldn't be about open sexism, racism, anti-semitism, and hate. Last year, Ohanian called creepshots an "obvious negative for society" in an interview with The Verge. But Ohanian isn't too involved in the day-to-day running of Reddit anymore. (He's busy campaigning for president of the Internet.) Unfortunately, the guy actually running the show, general manager Erik Martin, has been less relenting. During the whole creepshots revolt last year, Martin was vehement about taking down the illegal stuff, but he didn't seem to care about the content of the conversation otherwise.
In practice, Reddit generally stands up for the "free speech" of its site, meaning pretty much anything and definitely everything sexist remain on Reddit without getting pulled, moderated, or mandated. In fact, Reddit even rewards its super trolls. This is the same site that gave an award to Violentacrez, a.k.a Michael Brutsch, a.k.a the "biggest troll on the web" behind the creepshots and jailbait subreddits. The people who run the site justify that kind of action as a part of the site's philosophy, which Ohanian gets at in his latest plea: "These amazing open platforms for speech work because an internet connection is all we need to share an idea with the connected world," he writes. That lax policy, however, still results in a lot hateful people talking about terrible things, which was very much on full display as the Richards scandal played out last week from SendGrid to hackers and the tech-troll community in between. Apparently, this time things went too for for Reddit, or at least Ohanian, who would like to remind the "rock star" nerds what it feels like at the other end of things: "Plenty of us got used to being ignored," he writes. "Many of us were bullied. But what did we learn from it -- empathy or hate?"
*A reader has pointed out that the "hates free speech" remark might have been sarcastic, since people in that subreddit often make fun of the "free speech" defense. Though, the other comments come from another subreddit.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.