When I was having an early Christmas dinner with some friends, we started talking about subreddits. I had never heard of a subreddit: “What does that even mean?” I asked. My friends explained that there was a subreddit for everything and anything you could think about. “It’s like a community for people who like a show, club, place, activity, or any topic you could possibly imagine”. My friend showed me some subreddits that might interest me: ‘foodie’, ‘The Office’, ‘cute dogs’. But then, somehow, the conversation took a whole different turn…
The Insanity of Subreddit Topics
Apparently, there are quite some very controversial subreddit topics. For example, in order to explain the absurdity and unlimitedness of subreddits, my friend told me about how subreddits exist specifically for ‘incest’. Curious as I am, I wanted to read a few stories on this subreddit (my curiosity has no boundaries).
Between my shock and surprise over some of the stories I had read on the ‘incest’ subreddit, my curiosity still wasn’t satisfied. In fact, it had only gotten hungry for more crazy stories and insane subreddits. Fortunately, like always, Google and Wikipedia had my back. A little Google search soon granted me a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to ‘Controversial Reddit Communities’. Subreddits on this list include topics like Beatingwomen, Creepshots, FatPeopleHate, NoNewNormal, MensRights, TheRedPill, and more. Many of these controversial Reddit communities are highly inappropriate, sharing pictures and stories of harming women, sexualized photos of people taken without their knowledge. They tend to promote antifeminism, racism, rape culture, and a large range of other hate-bearing movements. Some of these ‘communities have been banned (and i.m.o. most rightly so), but the existence and suspension of these subreddits make me question the actions of moderators on this platform.
Moderators can be considered as a certain kind of ‘overseer’ of discussions, topics, and pictures on social media platforms. Mods are supposed to assess whether pictures, discussions and/or comments adhere to Reddit’s rules. In case they find that there is an issue with any of these, they are able to remove posts, and ban users. On Reddit, the creator of a subreddit automatically also becomes the moderator of the community. This manner of appointing a moderator seems to me to be a little faulty, especially considering that apparently, some people create harmful communities and this very fact makes me personally question their moral judgment. Fortunately, this is not where the hierarchy of moderators ends. Reddit appoints volunteers which further oversee communities and delete these if they violate Reddit’s guidelines. Moderation isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem, because rules and guidelines may vary per community, and the scope of a community can be overwhelming to a moderator. Especially considering the shocking topics which moderators could face. Having read only a few of the stories on some of these subreddits, I could not imagine having to deal with them on a daily and it is then no surprise, that Reddit works along with mental health organizations to help moderators cope.
Business Insider, The Reddit Starter Pack
Reddit, What’s a moderator?
Protocol, How a screenshot started a fight that took over Reddit
I also fell into a subreddit rabbit hole once. As you said there are so many horrible subreddits but of course so many cool and interesting ones. They are sources of information and different perspectives.
I agree with you that the person who creates the subreddit is automatically the moderator. If, in the case of the insane subreddits it kind of defeats the whole purpose of a moderator because the people who create those subreddits often have the same views as the people who join and comment in that subreddit. And I cannot image the things volunteer moderators must see when monitoring these spaces. It reminds me of the VICE interview with a former Facebook moderator and how much trauma they accumulated by the horrible things they saw. I am glad to hear Reddit does a better job of working together with mental health organizations to help these brave volunteers.
What I think is that male users currently dominate Reddit. Men, on average, react more negatively and directly than women. As a result, as a content creator on Reddit, you are more likely to be exposed to these hate interactions, which can have devastating mental health consequences. The community creator may be more knowledgeable about moderation when it comes to the specifics of the content. This explains why they were chosen as mods. However, Reddit is a type of social media that has both positive and negative consequences for its users. To mitigate the harm, I believe we should better educate people on how to use internet content responsibly, as exposure is unavoidable.
I think one of the big problems with subreddit moderators is that they are always biased. You will never see someone moderate a subreddit they are not interested in. If someone thinks that men are under appreciated in society, they will not be a moderator for r/feminism, but they will be a moderator for r/mensrights and I think that is where the problem starts. If a post is against the terms of service of reddit, but it follows your beliefs you are more likely to let it go through and this lets a subreddit spiral into some of the messes that you mentioned.