Radical Leftists Built Their Own Reddit After It Banned Them
"I decided to delete my Reddit account and make a site where socialists and anarchists wouldn’t get punished for talking out against fascism.”
Image: Raddle / Composition: Louise Matsakis
Last December, Reddit banned a subforum called r/LeftWithSharpEdge, for "multiple violations of site wide rules." The relatively small anarchist community—a screenshot from the Internet Archive last year shows that it had less than 400 members—was a satirical reaction to a similarly named forum, r/LeftWithoutEdge. Sharp Edge was more radical, and intended to counter r/LeftWithoutEdge's "inoffensive, milquetoast brand of socialist," ziq, one of subreddit's members, told me in a direct message.
Then it got banned, for what ziq says are unclear reasons. "The Reddit admins refused to explain why they deleted our sub," they said. What is known is that Sharp Edge was deleted the same day it was featured on r/SubredditOfTheDay, a popular forum that highlights subreddits across the site.
After r/LeftWithSharpEdge was taken down, ziq decided to leave Reddit and create an independent anarchist community free from its rules. Raddle.me, which was originally called Raddit.me, is an "alternative that is focused on community building and openness, and not controlled by a corporation," ziq told me. The original name was intended to sound similar to Reddit, but was later changed to avoid potential trademark issues.
"The anger from the Reddit left sphere was big enough that I decided to delete my Reddit account and make a site where socialists and anarchists wouldn't get punished for talking out against fascism, joking about 'eating the rich' and sharing 'subversive' anti-capitalist memes and literature," they explained.
Raddle isn't the first site to emerge out of outrage at Reddit's policies. When Reddit instituted new harassment rules in 2015, and subsequently banned several hateful communities, Redditors built a new site called Voat. It became a favorite among the alt-right, and promised to never censor its users posts. Far-right online communities often build their own spaces after getting kicked off bigger, mainstream platforms, like 8chan, for whom the forum 4chan was too tame, or Gab, which is intended loosely as an alternative to Twitter.
While Voat's free-wheeling, hate speech-is-free-speech culture could reasonably be called the opposite of Raddle's, both sites were created because of perceived censorship by Reddit's administrators. They're evidence of how large platforms often struggle to moderate communities whose beliefs are seen as outside the norm.
"We are very clear in our site terms of service that posting content that incites violence or harasses will get users banned from Reddit," a spokesperson for Reddit said in an email. "We have banned r/leftwithsharpedge due to repeated violations of the terms of our content policy, which we communicated clearly to the moderators."
Raddle, which has a poison dart frog as its logo, feels like a simpler version of Reddit. It's fast, relatively easy to navigate, and has familiar Reddit features like upvote and downvote buttons that push posts to the top of the site. There are a number of political subforums, like "EatTheRich," as well as more typical fare, like "books" or "tech."
Like r/LeftWithoutEdge, Raddle's user population appears fairly tiny, but there are no exact numbers. Raddle doesn't have advertisements or run analytical software, so its size is difficult to calculate—but that's by design. The site is meant to be an alternative to social networks that profit by monitoring user behavior and serving advertisements.
"We have no ads, no tracking, no user profiling and we don't collect or share any user data with anyone," ziq said. The site is community-built and anyone can contribute to the code.
Ziq's commitment to privacy is an appealing virtue for Raddle's users. "I'm always very uneasy about the lack of concern for privacy online," Tequila_Wolf, a user who posts frequently to Raddle, told me in a direct message. "When you have friends on government lists who get harassed at every border because, say, they are members of Anarchists Against The Wall, you know you don't want to get on that list."
Ziq originally built Raddle on WordPress, but a skilled developer soon stepped in to create a more sophisticated version of the site with less limitations. "I spent five hours straight putting together new software that could run the site and threw it on GitHub," Emma, the lead developer, designer, and system administrator behind Raddle told me in an email. "After three months of coding (including one month off due to burnout), we switched to the new software."
Raddle is moderated differently from other sites—the focus is on completely excluding bigotry. "Socialists of all stripes, social democrats, liberals, conservatives and anyone else who wants to partake in a community where bigotry isn't tolerated in the name of 'free speech' is welcome to join. The one condition is that bigotry stays out of the picture," Emma explained. "Our belief is that freedom from harm trumps freedom of speech."
Emma said that whether someone should be banned from Raddle is determined on a case-by-case basis. "We recognize that we aren't all flawless beings, so an otherwise decent person who slips up and says something that can be construed as bigotry will probably get away with a warning," she told me. "On the other hand, we won't tolerate users who post in bad faith and who consistently step over or skirt the line."
Raddle ultimately came out of more broad problems ziq and Emma saw with Reddit. Ziq complained about how it has increasingly become a recruiting ground for the alt-right, the social network's overemphasis on America (r/politics, a major subreddit, only discusses US-based politics, for example), and the fact that the site's code isn't open source, among other issues. Emma mentioned what she says is a problem with harassment on the site.
"To me, the biggest problem with Reddit is how its administrators ignore the routine harassment and witch-hunts of marginalized people that takes place, with r/The_Donald being the most prominent example," she said.
r/The_Donald is an enormously popular subreddit that rallies for President Trump and his policies. "I could forgive Reddit if T_D [r/The_Donald] owed its existence to a doctrine of absolute free speech (which I'd still think is misguided), but the reality is that T_D is their big cash cow," Emma told me.
Raddle is ultimately a place where leftists can be themselves, without constant confrontation from users who arrive from subreddits like r/The_Donald. "Having a space where you don't have to constantly listen to or defend yourself from fascists is important, and Reddit has shown that it isn't willing to provide that," Emma said.
More broadly, Raddle, like every good internet community, provides an escape from the outside world. "I want to contribute to the building of an online community that allows me and others to exist, and allows us to resist the world as it rains down harms upon us," Tequila_Wolf told me.