On July 2nd, Reddit fired Director of Talent Victoria Taylor, the woman responsible for coordinating celebrity Ask Me Anythings. Almost immediately, subreddit moderators and users took this as a way to reinvigorate anger about last month’s banning of various hate subreddits (/r/FatPeopleHate, /r/ShitNiggersSay, /r/TransFags), framing it as the end of freedom of expression. The firing allows the debate to avoid expressing support for the hate speech subreddits, as there’s now a second reason to dislike CEO Ellen Pao. Dozens of the top subreddits, including /r/AskReddit and the subreddit for AMAs went private temporarily in protest. Other subreddits, like /r/crappydesign, outright deleted themselves, wanting to decrease traffic and ad revenue to a company that “stifles freedom of expression”. Reddit management hasn’t handled the fiasco well, looking at Alexis Ohanian and Ellen Pao’s accounts. I don’t believe the vocal response has been fair.
Every decision made by Reddit isn’t made by Ellen Pao, as far as I can tell. There are quite a few people in management with different levels of expertise in different parts of running the company. I do find the lack of a press release around the Victoria termination after such a public reaction strange, but even that is more PR-department stuff. Reddit is a large internet media company owned by a massive media empire (Conde Nast). We don’t really know what’s going on in the Victoria case (who made the decision, why they made the decision, whether that was a reasonable decision, all valid questions that Reddit and Victoria have the right not to discuss). They didn’t give her a respectful 2 week notice, which is disconcerting.
I don’t have personal insight into whether Ellen Pao is literally comparable to a brutal dictator responsible for 70 million deaths or not, but for now I’m going to continue to try to avoid the worst of Reddit and find the best, while using Adblock. I hope that Victoria will share her story, but until then, or other significant testimony or evidence, I’m not going to make judgements on this specific case. Reddit is a troubled corporation, but I’m happy users that blame the “SJWs” and actively support /r/FatPeopleHate, /r/shitniggerssay, and /r/transfags are leaving. Poor Voat.co.
Freedom of speech is strictly a political right. It doesn’t mean anyone has to listen or provide a public forum for anyone else. It just means you won’t be prosecuted for what you say and you have the personal freedom to do so provided you’re not invading other people’s personal freedoms. When hateful and harassing speech is tolerated in a space, the “hated on” groups are not going to feel equally accepted to speak, abridging their expression.
This is different if the “hated on” group has an active purpose of hurting others. Believing society should taunt, oppress, or execute people of a certain skin color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity and not feeling accepted when you express that is vastly different from being born part of a group of people (that carries no innate motive to harm) and feeling suppressed. The former is a display of a community rejecting backwards-ass ideals, the latter is a display of intolerance. Reddit’s owners and management have the right to do either one, and users have a right to leave if they aren’t comfortable with the result. The web is an open playground, and there will always be a million and one places to discuss things Reddit doesn’t wish to host.
Hate speech takes advantage of and propagates power imbalances
Ideally, speech should be moderated collectively (think a group coming to “fuck off, asshole” as a general consensus) in an organic fashion. Hate speech isn’t bad because it’s hateful, it takes advantage of and propagates power imbalances. This is why I can say Donald Trump is an asshole, as the billionaire is generally the person with more power in any situation. When a gender neutral bathroom is burned (as happened at my school last year), the very ability for gender non-conforming folks to go about their day is being attacked. You can’t say the same for a typical gendered restroom, which would probably be written up as a prank.
The law is different. You can’t realistically limit any speech without risking all. Reddit isn’t the US Government, and Reddit can’t prosecute you or destroy your life, unless its users post stolen nude photos of you, or accuse you of terrorism.
Disapproving of intolerant views (racism, fascism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc) that specifically try to hurt a marginalized group is not intolerant. It’s disturbing that Reddit continues to profit off of enabling hate speech, as there are still plenty of neo-nazi, sexist, and all around terrible subreddits, and Reddit has only deleted a few notable ones. The first time Reddit “violated freedom of speech” was banning /r/jailbait, with users militantly defending their right to view child porn (lite), while ignoring the subjects’ consent they broke and the potential implications that might come from it. Then, the Snowden leaks made Reddit into a community of rightfully furious people about privacy invasion. Suddenly these same users dropped their passion for protecting privacy when Celebgate happened, and once again became furious at Reddit for banning a subreddit focused solely on illegally distributing nude photographs of public figure’s without their author’s consent.
You won’t find many people calling to terminate Ellen Pao in /r/anarchism or other left wing-libertarian subreddits.