Reddit's gotten attention recently for the charitable projects it fosters. But it's still home to r/mensrights, recently named as a hate site by the Southern Poverty Law Center. How does Reddit reconcile its good works with its very vocal assholes?
The Daily Dot has a roundup of recent charitable campaigns that got their start on the site — Reddit users have helped a Kenyan orphanage build a new wall to protect itself, and a family treat their young child's rare blood disease. Daily Dot's Kevin Morris praises "Reddit's growing power as a platform for crowdsourced charity" and quotes founder Alexis Ohanian's personal maxim: "I've always tried to 'make the world suck less.'" But some parts of Reddit definitely make the world suck more. Here's what the SPLC has to say about r/mensrights in its Spring 2012 Intelligence Report:
A "subreddit" of the user-generated news site Reddit, this forum describes itself as a "place for people who feel that men are currently being disadvantaged by society." While it presents itself as a home for men seeking equality, it is notable for the anger it shows toward any program designed to help women. It also trafficks in various conspiracy theories. "Kloo2yoo," identified as a site moderator, writes that there is "undeniable proof" of an international feminist conspiracy involving the United Nations, the Obama Administration and others, aimed at demonizing men.
Mensrights posters, unsurprisingly, are not pleased. One johntheother writes,
Did you imagine that in a culture of escalating hatred and dis-enfrachisement for men, formerly humanitarian organizations would not loose the plot and paint you with a brush of lies and hatred?
For those of you who lack the stomach to actually oppose social hatred, get the fuck out of the way, and good riddance. The rest of us, who see our own opposition to misandry as something more than an edgy indulgence — we have work to do. Go hide your heads and hope that as anti-male legislation grows ever more aggressive — and anti male hiring practices and educational policies become increasingly toxic, just hope your female neighbours and relatives forbear to flick their fingers in summons of police because you wanted to watch the game, or didn't snap to attention fast enough on their summons.
Go prostate [sic] yourself at some feminist bigot's feet and claim those bad MRAs brainwashed you, and hope theres a scrap of food left for you at the slave's table.
When a formerly human rights organization like the SPLC turns cancerous and begins labelling human rights movements as if they're hate movements, if you have a spine and an ethical compass, you stand up, otherwise, get the fuck out of the way.
However, the SPLC report has also prompted some soul-searching among r/mensrights posters. A long thread about the report is far from an unbroken screed against feminazis — a number of comments are critical of the subreddit, or at least of some of its more hateful users. Says misseff, "it would be easy for an objective outsider to see information from the SPLC and come here on any given day and see evidence to substantiate that this just looks like a hate group sometimes." Mshenrick writes, "I've said before, the MRM's biggest obstacle is misogyny within it." And ilikesushi offers a diagnosis (bold is sic):
This subreddit and this movement have a credibility problem. I'd like to think that being called out like this will lead to some change in the way you all choose to present your grievances, but most likely, the trolls and the crazies will just dismiss this as more evidence of the gynocentric matriarchy or whatever the fuck.
ilikesushi appears sympathetic to some MRA causes, and has previously advocated that the movement change from within: "I too think that the message of a worthy cause is being drowned out by misogyny here. And then I became sad when all of the top comments were reeked of defensiveness or resorted to attacking feminists (for the millionth time) rather than addressing MensRights' own issues."
These reactions illustrate an important aspect of Reddit — even in its grossest corners, there's a lot of difference of opinion. Reddit's surprisingly heterogeneous, both on the large scale — r/mensrights versus raising money for sick kids — and on the small — hardliners versus more open-minded types within r/mensrights. According to Ohanian, that's because it's ultimately a way for people to talk to each other. He likened Reddit to Twitter in its ability to give a voice to both smart people and assholes. And he told me,
All of those aforementioned charitable programs on reddit are spontaneous creations from a bunch of random people who use our platform (reddit is a platform for building online communities) just like some (a very, very small minority) of users will use it for offensive content like on r/mensrights.
It's awful content, but every communication platform has been occasionally used for content we find offensive — we at reddit think very carefully about how to encourage and promote the positive content that makes up the vast majority of what people post.
Ultimately it doesn't make much sense to think of Reddit as good or evil, much as it doesn't make sense to think of the whole internet like that. Reddit's a tool for bringing people and their ideas together, one that's becoming increasingly powerful. And like any powerful tool, it can be really good or really, really bad.