Where Communities Are Built, Where Communities of Sexual Harassment and Gender Abuse Are Fostered – Who Is Responsible?

reddit-logo-01-674x501Who should be responsible for ethics in social media? What about social media platforms that are also linked to businesses and are partnered with other well known names and companies? Reddit is a prime example of this type of social media platform. And if you are a social media savvy kind of geek, then you definitely know what Reddit is and what gets posted on Reddit.com and its “subreddits.” We could talk about 4 Chan, but let’s not.

In the recent years, Reddit has taken strides to ensure that the site is clean of “child pornography and sexually suggestive content featuring minors,” (http://www.reddit.com/rules), but there still remain concerns about how often the administrative staff and moderators use a blind eye to avoid having to take any action towards other negative content submitted on the site. Some would argue that this allowance of abused “Freedom of Speech” has often led to communities or “subreddits” that promote/support abuse, sexual harassment, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination. This is in stark contrast to the views of Reddit’s current CEO, Ellen Pao, who recently attempted to battle gender discrimination. Under such laws as the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996, which protects Internet speech and protects Reddit Inc. from having any legal responsibilities of what their users say and do, it is easy to see why no actions have been taken to ban such subreddits as “/r/RapingWomen” where users and moderators promote rape culture while claiming that their content is meant to be satirical, indicative of “Internet trolling.” Now, we know that these types of subreddits are typically buried amongst all the chaotic funny, cute, and NSFW images, but they do exist.

Should Reddit be ethically responsible?

Let’s assume you don’t know how Reddit works. Here’s a quick rundown. Reddit relies on existing communities to form and create itself and in giving users a “strong sense of belonging,” where “anyone can create their own community,” as stated by Reddit’s General Manager, Erik Martin, (cmxhub.com). This allows for its users to become moderators of their own subreddits as well as appointing others to be moderators to that subreddit. In addition, users can create their own set rules and guidelines for their subreddit, as long as they abide to Reddit’s rules. Although Reddit does have their own Community Managers hired by the company itself, these Community Managers only serve to provide support and the tools they need to be efficient moderators. In contrast to Reddit’s hands off-like model, they do, however, supply a set of FAQs for moderators as well as an “informal” set of rules they call, “Moddiquette,” their version of the “Dos and Don’ts.” Similarly, users who register an account also have to agree to the “Rules of Reddit” as well as reading the “Reddiquette” to which they ask users to “abide by it as best as you can.” Reddit also outlines their “core values,” asking its users to “Remember the human,” “Give people voices,” and so on. In spite of these rule, guidelines, and values, is Reddit doing enough to moderate content that freedom of speech does not include? What happens when one community is more harmful to other communities? Let us not get into a discussion of free speech and simply look at what is not included in free speech that contributes to concerns of ethics. The question here is that of ethics.

Body shaming and sexism against women has been getting a lot of attention lately in light of reports of school dress codes that are specifically targeting young females. As to not enter into a deep discussion, the argument is that the dress codes promotes and allows for males and other females to judge and view women based upon their body and looks. Is it then, similar to say that the questionable subreddits are promoting discrimination, rape, slut shaming, homophobia, etc.? So, let us ask again, should Reddit be responsible for ethical issues that occur within its site? It is also easy to say that we can just not look at those subreddits and turn a blind eye, but does that mean that they don’t exist?

So, why should Reddit care? Reddit has partnerships with a few companies to offer gold members special deals and among the list are UPS, Betabrand clothing, Barkbox, and Giant Bomb, (lady gamers should be familiar with them). As a company that would not want to discriminate any groups of people, should these partners be concerned with being linked to a site fostering such communities? Looking closer at Reddit, we will discover that Reddit Inc. was acquired in October 2006 by Condé Nast Publications and as of January 2014, operates as a subsidiary of Condé Nast Publications’ parent company, Advance Publications, Incorporation. Why should we know about these two companies? Well, Advance Publications and Condé Nast Publications houses such magazines as Wired, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Teen Vogue, Modern Bride, W, SELF, and many more. Also not to forget, all the websites of each magazine are owned by Condé Nast as well. Note that they own many magazines that are targeted towards women. The content is often times questionable but overall the magazines aim to provide its female readers with advice, uplifting narratives, and of course what’s happening in entertainment and fashion.

Queen of the editorial fashion world, Anna Wintour has been at the helm of American Vogue for the past 27 years and Condé Nast named her artistic director in 2013. Why is Wintour important? Wintour was also named to President Obama’s Committee on Arts and Humanities and recently spoke out about the mental health issues of young people today due to the pressures of social media and support of the work being done at the Youth Anxiety Center in New York. She has also been known to praise working mothers and stated, “I think it’s very important for children to understand that women work and that it’s fulfilling…” (Telegraph.co.uk 2015) This is one of many occasions where she has been outspoken in regards to women in the workforce and in powerful positions.

Famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, whom many would call a feminist, is also part of the Condé Nast team and is well known for her work in Rolling Stone and her book Women in which she asks society to look at women beyond stereotypes.

Now, we know that there is still a continuing problem with fashion magazines regarding body image and photoshopped images, but we’ll save that for a different discussion. The point here is that Reddit is part of a very big powerhouse in the publishing media world. Vanity Fair recently put transgendered and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, (Bruce Jenner) – also shot by Leibovitz – on its coveted cover, this means that Condé Nast has been trying to move forward with the changes in society. (One step at a time, right?) And back to Reddit, CEO Ellen Pao – let’s not get into her recent move to take out salary negotiations, she meant well, but as critics would argue, may not have thoroughly thought it through – remember that she just tried to bring to light her experience of gender discrimination in the workplace. Her case may have lost, but let us not forget that gender discrimination does exist in the workplace and even in the larger spectrum of gender discrimination. Thus, as a company that provides publications for women and employs women who have spoken out about gender equality, should Reddit or even Condé Nast be ethically concerned about some of the discriminatory content posted on Reddit?

Lastly, why should the lady geek community care about these subreddits? We all know fully well of the discrimination and sexism that women in the geek community have faced and continue to face. More and more incidents of female cosplayers being mistreated, inappropriately touched and sexually harassed are being reported. How can we make sure that the geek community is a safer place for women when other closely related communities, or in this case entities such as Reddit, is fostering a culture that continues to discriminated and disrespect women? How can we teach young males that females should be respected and not body shamed if there are “communities” that do the opposite?

Reddit is very transparent in regards to their privacy practices and “encourages trust and more user expression.” Their annual transparency reports can be found via their “transparency” link at the bottom of the site, or via this direct link, http://www.reddit.com/wiki/transparency. Upon reviewing 2014, they have received many requests for user information removal regarding copyright, trademark, and “other requests”. If it’s a legal matter, by court order, the content is removed. And in other cases, Reddit (an undisclosed person or persons) decides based upon their privacy policy. Not here that “user information” is not the same as discriminating and inciting content. Thirty-three of the “other requests” made, none of them were granted removal. What could “other requests” possibly mean? Legally, Reddit is not required to remove discriminating content, but remember, we are asking ethically. And let us also not confuse values with ethics and understand that values do often drive ethics.

Reddit is a great site and does foster many great communities and let’s admit it, we can find many funny and cute photos of baby animals there. But it also has a dark ugly side. We can only hope that one day we can end all communities of hate, starting with one place at a time. “Remember the human, ” and remember that women are also human.


Disclaimer – The opinions expressed on the Defective Geeks blog are those of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of Defective Geeks or its staff.

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