The Reddit community, or at least an outspoken minority of users, is up in arms about what has transpired over the last 24 hours. In an effort to end “harassment,” Reddit bigwigs decided to ban popular subreddit FatPeopleHate, a discussion group that railed against the growing acceptance of obesity in today’s society.
While, yes, FatPeopleHate was filled with unsavory users who would relentlessly attack “hamplanets,” “obeasts” and others who sympathized with the Healthy At Every Size movement, the subreddit should not have been banned. This move by Reddit opens cans of worms that will forever alter the community.
First of all, although FatPeopleHate was oftentimes unpalatable, it wasn’t the most vile subreddit on Reddit. That honor is likely held by one of the many racist subreddits like CoonTown — or perhaps one of the subreddits that glorifies everything from beating women to dead children to rape. In comparison, FatPeopleHate is simply an annoyance compared to the cancer elsewhere in the community.
Secondly, the entire foundation of Reddit is built upon the promise of freedom. As the company’s former CEO, Yishan Wong, stated a couple months ago: “We will not ban questionable subreddits. You choose what to post. You choose what to read. You choose what kind of subreddit to create.”
To go from that mission statement to banning FatPeopleHate is a complete 180-degree change in philosophy. And that, understandably, will not sit well with users, to put it lightly.
Why the sudden philosophical about-face? Most of the blame, whether appropriate or not, has fallen onto the shoulders of current CEO Ellen Pao. Judging from what she has had to say since taking over the job, she doesn’t value freedom. Instead, she’s a unabashed feminist whose main objective appears to be to create safe spaces and ensure social justice.
Considering Pao’s tumultuous past — which includes everything from failed discrimination lawsuits to her husband being accused of operating a Ponzi scheme — many Reddit users are worried about the path that she’s guiding the once freedom-touting community toward. And, while it may be an overreaction, it’s easy to understand why users are fearful.
Now, after banning FatPeopleHate, Reddit is at a crossroads. The two options: continue the censorship and get rid of all the objectionable subreddits — or, admit the mistake, backtrack and revive FatPeopleHate.
Reddit could try to ignore the outcries but it would be a foolish move. Considering that FatPeopleHate had approximately 150,000 members, it’s simply an impossibility that those users will go quietly into the night. The situation will fester and get progressively worse until Reddit picks the road they want to travel next.
In retrospect, the banning of FatPeopleHate will inevitably be viewed as the beginning of the end. At the very least, it’s the end of the freedom that Reddit users enjoyed up until yesterday morning. In the worst case scenario, this could be what causes a mass exodus that eventually sends Reddit to the scrapheap of forgotten internet destinations alongside Digg, MySpace and the rest.