Whenever something goes wrong on Reddit, and that happens a lot these days, there are inevitably two responses. First, Redditors insist that this isn’t the majority of the site and that the “Reddit hive mind” will take care of the problem. And secondly, Reddit announces that they’re very sorry but there’s nothing they can do. The recent celeb nude leak, though, may have finally worn through those already threadbare excuses.
First of all, it’s pretty clear the Reddit hive mind loved the hell out of the leaked nudes. The site racked up 250 million views off those pictures before they were banned, and the guy running the whole shebang has accused Reddit of holding off on the banning just long enough to rake in sufficient cash to keep the site running for a month from Reddit’s internal “gold” alone, before whatever advertising the site slapped around the photos.
More than that, though, there was the blatant hypocrisy of more than a few Redditors on display. You didn’t have to go very far to find people outraged over the NSA violating their privacy, but that’s not, apparently, a two way street.
Worse, though, was that this hypocrisy goes right up the ladder to the people who keep the lights on. Right as Reddit started banning forums and users over the nude leak, it put up a blog post essentially claiming that Reddit, which is a private corporation, is really a government, offering up this gem:
We uphold the ideal of free speech on reddit as much as possible not because we are legally bound to, but because we believe that you – the user – has the right to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, and that it is your responsibility to do so. When you know something is right, you should choose to do it. But as much as possible, we will not force you to do it.
Notably omitted from this is why this philosophy doesn’t apply to Reddit’s own leadership. Legally speaking, they’re correct that they’re not culpable for what their users do. Morally speaking, though, they, the owners of the site, have the responsibility to choose between right and wrong. They have powerful tools to prevent a wrong from being committed in their domain, and more to the point, they have a highly motivated userbase and external watchdogs both pointing out, volubly, that what was happening on the site was wrong. And instead of acting, they tried to abdicate that responsibility and shove it off on their own users.
What Reddit’s ownership is desperately trying to avoid is admitting that silence, in this situation, means consent or even approval. But that’s what it is. Whenever the site sits on its hands and, say, lets its users harass a sexual assault victim, or smear the name of somebody who died in a tragedy, they are implicitly stating that it’s A-OK with them for users to act like this.
And that, ultimately, is the fundamental problem with Reddit: It won’t take responsibility for what its users do, whether out of greed or a profound moral cowardice. And if it won’t face the problem voluntarily, eventually something is going to happen that will force them to do so.