Over the last week, stories submitted to the /r/atheism section of reddit.com appear to have been affected by a number of changes. Firstly in the way reddit’s algorithm adjudicates whether or not a submission is genuine content, or spam and secondly in the way genuine stories are promoted to the front page of the site.
Firstly, I agree that it is a good thing that reddit.com staff, regularly monitor and adjust the way measures designed to prevent spam and to assure quality content reaches the front page of the site work. Technical glitches in this adjustment process usually result in disruption over a day or so and this is both understood to be normal, by reddit users, as well as being something reddit staff would prefer not to have happen at all, despite being occasionally unavoidable.
It is increasingly apparent, however, that in the case of these recent changes, far from being a technical glitch, information gleaned by the /r/atheism community suggests that the sub-reddit as a whole is being actively censored.
When news of this began to spread throughout the reddit community earlier the week, starting Monday 24th august, 2009, it came hot on the heals of another article posted to a non-atheism subreddit about the retail giant Sears, who allegedly forced reddit management to pull a story rising up the ranks which was critical of the Sears brand. Alarm bells began to ring that reddit was going through some changes, behind the scenes, which perhaps suggested a tightening of the rules on what can and can not be said on the site.
Now, it would appear, from a series of investigations by active members of the reddit community, not all of whom are avid subscribers to the /r/atheism subreddit, but who are nevertheless intrigued as to how a previously open and ostensibly egalitarian system could become closed and restricted almost overnight, show that stories which the algorithm previously identified as being of rising interest, and therefore qualified to appear on the front page to both signed-in users and new visitors alike, are now being removed or “down-voted” altogether.
It would be easy to jump to conclusions as to why this might be the case. Many different kinds of interest groups, who use reddit to promote their message and encourage conversation, have historically complained about a perceived “gaming” of the system, by their detractors, in order to silence or stifle informed debate, from all sides of a given opinion.
Occasionally this is sheer paranoia. Occasionally it is borne out by the evidence. In the case of the Presidential election, for example, it was clear that both Republican and Democratic party volunteers, in great numbers, were signing-up for multiple reddit accounts, to inject partisan editorial pieces from single-issue blogs and front organisations. While this is not entirely democratic, it is you might say nevertheless all in the game of a Presidential campaign.
But the discussion which needs to take place around the world, on the pressing subject of how we ordinary, moderately well educated people are best placed to cut out the cancer of hate and religious supremacism in our society, is not subject to the winds of political change in the way a single campaign might be. It is an on-going conversation and a struggle against the steady drip of fear theology, which we will only win by encouraging openness and freedom of information.
The irreligious are not going to go away and “leave people to think whatever they want to think”, for as long as what they think informs the decisions they make that in-turn affect the lives of people who do not share their delusions on war, race, healthcare and how we carve a better world for ourselves through reason and intellectual honesty.
Atheists are more numerous a voting block, in the United States, than the Jewish lobby and the African American movement. And yet, thanks to a false conglomeration of atheism with social Darwinism, propagated by the very mainstream media which social bookmarking sites like reddit are in such a strong position to counteract, atheists remain among the least trusted group in the whole of the North American political spectrum.
Reddit represents an extremely attractive alternative to the old way of doing this kind of dishonest politics, for so many people, that I can’t help but feel a great sense of personal disappointment that someone, somewhere in the Conde Nast family appears to have lost sight of this amazing opportunity.
So I ask, Conde Nast Digital, on behalf of everyone who discovered and encouraged others to explore reddit, as an alternative to many other sites of its kind, precisely because of the /r/atheism subreddit receiving such a prominent front page slot, to please consider re-instating /r/atheism as a default category on the front page and re-instate it as a default subscription for newly signed-up users, as it was previous to the changes made this last week.
Thank you for your time.
EDIT: 00:06 Friday 28th August. It would seem that despite /r/atheism remaining one of the top ten most popular sub-genre on the popular social bookmarking site, evidence has been unearthed that it was deliberately removed from the front page to make room for the /r/Christianity sub-reddit. I think I smell a threat from advertisers rat. Stay tuned.