Orlando Shooting Response Shows Reddit Can't Be the ‘Front Page of the Internet'

Mass censorship and confusion in /r/news makes it clear that the default Reddit experience is a failure.

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Jun 13 2016, 6:40pm

Posts that were deleted from /r/news.

If you browsed Reddit Sunday, you would have noticed that the top news on one of the United States's largest websites wasn't the mass shooting that left at least 50 people dead in a gay nightclub in Orlando. Instead, the community's attention was focused on how moderators of the site's /r/news subreddit handled the event. Once again, discussion and information dissemination was drowned out by Reddit's internal drama.

As you might expect, there's a lot of history and layers to all of this, so I'll just give you the topline notes: In the hours after the Orlando mass shooting was reported, moderators at /r/news banned comments in the most popular thread about the shooting, then removed many additional links to other news reports about the story. The moderating team eventually created a "mega thread" to discuss the shooting, but deleted thousands of comments in it and banned many of the users who posted in it.

[Update: One of Reddit's Top Posts Is Swastikas, Again]

Screenshots show that people were banned or muted from the subreddit for posting links with new information and some people were also banned for posting information about where people could donate blood to the victims. One of the /r/news mods responded to one commenter with "kill yourself," for good measure.

A site that archives deleted comments shows that many on-topic comments were removed without explanation. Eventually, a moderator of /r/news made a post addressing, if not apologizing, for the whole thing.

Amid all this confusion, discussion about the shooting moved to threads on /r/AskReddit, /r/pics, and /r/the_donald (the huge Donald Trump subreddit). Unsurprisingly, many of these discussions devolved into discussion about Reddit's censorship and the /r/news situation. Meanwhile, other threads in other subreddits about the /r/news mess shot to the top of /r/all, which displays the top Reddit posts across all subreddits.

The default Reddit experience is a failure

Unless you're an ardent believer in the Reddit community or particularly enjoy internet drama, the specifics of what happened don't really matter. What matters is that if you wanted the news, Reddit was not the place for you to get it.

This pattern is increasingly predictable: A major news event occurs; people rush to post about it; the moderators are overwhelmed and react poorly; the community freaks out and, suddenly, the drama and reaction to the news has become the story.

The Reddit fallout from the Orlando shooting makes stark something that lots of people probably already kind of sensed: The default Reddit experience is a failure. Reddit is too large, too amorphous, and too easily coopted to be "the front page of the internet" that it wants to be. Reddit no longer offers a worthwhile general experience for the masses.

It was once possible to go to Reddit and check the news, see a few cute animals, laugh at some memes, maybe learn something. Now, Reddit's r/all and front page—and thus, the experience for many of its users—has been filtered through layers of infighting and drama, inside jokes, internal politics, and volunteer moderators of varying quality who have largely unknown motivations. Casually browsing Reddit means you'll be inundated with more posts about Reddit and its larger machinations and culture than anything else.

As the site's default subreddits have become unwieldy, smaller communities have figured out how to co-opt r/all, which is why, even on a normal day, the site's most popular posts are some mix of Donald Trump memes, "screenshots of black people being hilarious on social media," anti Hillary Clinton conspiracy theories, and complaints about Reddit censorship.

Reddit still has value, as long as you know where to look. Humanity, great discussion, and a drama-free experience still exists if you want to, say, learn about biking in New York City, the finer points of SpaceX's launches, or kill time comparing actual life to computer games. Reddit can still be a great experience if you know what you're looking for. As a front page of the internet for the masses, though? That dream is over.