In the last few months, users of the popular social bookmarking site Reddit.com, have begun to unearth an unsettling amount of evidence that moderators, who police submissions sent to the site, are unfairly removing popular submissions to the /r/politics subreddit, by claiming they are off-topic.
Some submissions attain many hundreds of comments and up-votes, before being inexplicably removed. In many cases, the user who submitted the post also finds their account blocked from making any further posts to that group, and are often given short shrift by the moderator who imposed the ban, when asked for an explanation.
Users of the subreddit /r/Republican have long complained that their submissions to the /r/Politics group, are removed simply for being pro-Republican, while some users who post to the /r/AskReddit group, have been banned simply for asking why they were banned from another group without explanation.
What’s particularly curious about the seemingly arbitrary basis upon which topic removals and user account bans are imposed, is while there appears to be a great deal of sensitivity to highly politicised submissions to groups which are in the default subscription listings and so show up on the front page of the site even if a user is not signed in, the moderators of groups which contain extreme pornography, bullying, homophobia, racism, gory accident videos, and hate speech, remain completely unaffected.
Statistically it stands to reason that the ever growing popularity of Reddit makes it a target for viral marketing campaigners, and lobbyists, who want to push a certain narrative on behalf of private companies, and political pressure groups. And while it’s generally accepted that Reddit’s algorithms do a good job of automatically spotting links which have been artificially promoted to the front page, the job of keeping the most popular subreddits free of link bait is ultimately the job of human moderators.
This age old problem, which began in the earliest days of the internet on Bulletin Boards and UseNet, isn’t an easy one to fix. All online communities, which start small and become popular, have experienced difficulties in balancing the freedoms of the user, with the needs of the moderator to interpret the rules of the group appropriately.
But what’s becoming increasingly clear in certain highly contentious discussion groups, such as /r/News, and /r/Politics, according to users of the /r/PoliticalModeration subreddit, is that what perhaps started as one or two genuine mistakes, by certain moderators, has become a war of egos between the users who feel unfairly censored, and the actions of one or two overly zealous moderators, who now appear to be purposefully escalating the situation, in an attempt to cover their tracks.
What’s particularly unsettling is the sorts of stories which are actively removed, even after they have attracted a number of genuine up votes and comments. A quick glance down the page set up to highlight moderator abuses, shows numerous stories about the Koch brothers, articles critical of the nuclear waste industry and evidence of the Pentagon using social bookmarking sites like Reddit itself, for purposes of propaganda.
There are also numerous self-posts by ex-moderators, who have quit in protest at the abuses of their fellow users, including this one by a former moderator who discovered widespread abuse of the mod system, by users who were being paid to submit and promote certain stories to the front page, while removing posts which suggested this was unethical.
This former moderator was also told he didn’t qualify as a moderator of the /r/politics subreddit, because he had posted stories to the /r/Libertarian subreddit and so would have shown a bias. And if that doesn’t explode your irony meter, this story on political censorship at reddit (can we say meta meta?) was removed from /r/Politics, for highlighting the very problem of censorship on /r/Politics.
UPDATE: Here’s another user who is considering removing reddit buttons from his blog, because of exactly this sort of problem. http://somethingsurprising.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/why-this-might-become-reddit-free-zone.html