Imagine finding yourself protesting against the banning of forums devoted to racism, homophobia and bullying? Well that’s what’s keeping the less tolerable denizens of the Internet occupied this week, after Reddit banned five of its subreddits in the wake of its new anti-harassment policies, with r/fatpeoplehate, a forum devoted to ridiculing and shaming overweight people, being the site’s moderators’ biggest target.
The subreddit was banned alongside the likes of r/hamplanethatred, r/transfags, r/neofag, and r/shitniggerssay, though Fat People Hate’s subscriber numbers drastically outweighed those of the other banned subreddits, so its removal has attracted the most attention. Or maybe it has been more roundly defended because the shaming of overweight people is more morally acceptable than flagrant racism and homophobia.
But those leaping to the defense of these subreddits are apparently not doing so because they necessarily agree with their content, but because they agree with their right to be on Reddit, a site that once set little to no boundaries in regards to what could and could not be posted onto it. It was only after the subreddit r/thefappening, which was devoted to posting images from the 2014 celebrity photo leaks, garnered tons of negative attention that Reddit’s owners and moderators sought to improve its public image somewhat.
The subreddit was taken down, which prompted an outcry from people who thought that them not being able to post leaked photos of naked celebrities was somehow a breach of their right to free speech. They cried, they whined, they swore they’d never return to Reddit again, but eventually everyone got on with their lives after we came to the mutual conclusion that, actually, just because Jennifer Lawrence is in movies and appears on TV sometimes doesn’t mean we should get to look at her vagina. If Hollywood celebrities had an online forum where they could all look at images of our genitals, we’d probably feel a bit uncomfortable too, wouldn’t we?
So now we have the case of Fat People Hate, which boasted over 150,000 subscribers at the time of its removal. I’ve visited the subreddit before, as I have many of Reddit’s more controversial subreddits out of morbid curiosity, and despite many of those defending its existence as a forum which encourages “pro-health,” I can tell you with 100% certainty that it’s not. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given that its name is Fat People Hate, but the majority of its posts and the comments on those posts are dedicated to spewing bile about overweight people, and posting photographs of overweight people whilst encouraging others to ridicule them.
Fat People Hate was the Internet’s version of the school bully poking fun at fat kids. The bully doesn’t envisage his mean comments encouraging those he taunts to adopt a healthier lifestyle, but rather he does so for his own cruel amusement. The end game of the subreddit wasn’t to transform the overweight people who were criticized on it into perfect physical specimens, but rather to cruelly make fun of them. There was no ulterior motive other than massaging its 150,000 subscribers superiority complexes upon seeing images of people with a less desirable BMI than them.
So it was taken down, along with the aforementioned subreddits that were arguably even more harmful, albeit with far less subscribers (each of them had below the 5,000 mark). Reddit isn’t a public service, so it’s well within its right to lay down the banhammer if it so wishes, regardless of the site’s general manager Erik Martin once saying that “having to stomach occasional troll reddits like /r/picsofdeadkids or morally questionable reddits like /r/jailbait are part of the price of free speech on a site like this.”
A key argument against the Reddit bans is that it is a huge site with an innumerable selection of subreddits, meaning that all of these banned subreddits can be avoided relatively easily. Though they exist on the same site, my frequent browsing of Reddit would never have led me to stumble upon Fat People Hate unless I had clicked a comment linking out to it. Reddit is essentially the equivalent of walking down a bustling high street, with its users looking at stores, choosing whether or not they fancy browsing the wares within them, before venturing inside/moving on to a different store that features items more suitable to them. But it’s arguably not as easy as that for people struggling with obesity, whose struggle with their eating disorder would likely not be helped by a subreddit with 150,000 subscribers perpetuating the notion that overweight people are worthless. If I was obese, I know I’d find it difficult to avoid venturing onto a page titled Fat People Hate. I think the same goes for many of us.
These posts, which feature an abundance of racism, sexism and downright abhorrent behavior, are intended to represent what Reddit should be like in the eyes of many of those opposing the site’s anti-harassment policies. They’re a backlash against the “censorship” that Reddit is enforcing by taking down pages such as Fat People Hate, and the site’s users’ right to free speech. One particularly telling post, which at the time of this writing is the 18th most upvoted on the site, features an image of Pao with a Nazi swastika reflected in the lenses of her glasses, anarcha-feminism earrings and a caption reading: “Check Yo Privilege.”
Yes, this is yet another online battle against so-called “Social Justice Warriors.”
The banning of r/fatpeoplehate, r/hamplanethatred, r/transfags, r/neofag, and r/shitniggerssay had nothing to do with feminism, yet there is that image on Reddit’s most upvoted list, featuring Pao wearing a pair of pro-feminism earrings. Why? Because many Internet users have thrown feminists and their reviled “SJWs” into the same stirring pot, with one act of what they perceive to be censorship meaning that the feminist, SJW, thought police apocalypse is drawing ever closer.
But here’s the thing: Reddit removing Fat People Hate isn’t impeding upon their right to free speech. It’s an example of Reddit exercising theirs. As an ever-growing company that struggled under the weight of the backlash of “The Fappening” subreddit drama, and the legal implications that could have caused them, they need to be seen as a company that are doing things to combat harassment on the site.
The announcement of their anti-harassment policies was one thing, but there needs to be actions as well as words. Reddit is a pool of useful information, cute pictures of animals and otherwise enjoyable content that has always had this ghastly cesspit bubbling beneath its surface. There are subreddits devoted to images of dead babies and corpses of women, for fuck’s sake. Reddit is in equal measures fun and awful, which is quite an accurate description of the Internet as a whole, really. But despite it labeling itself as the “Front Page of the Internet,” the truth is that it isn’t – it’s a single website, which has to do things for the sake of its public image as a company.
But if Reddit has removed Fat People Hate, what of those subreddits of photos of dead babies/women? Shouldn’t they be axed, too? Well, according to the site’s anti-harassment policies, maybe not. According to their “Promote ideas, protect people” blog post, Reddit states its own definition of harassment as: “Systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person (1) conclude that Reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation, or (2) fear for their safety or the safety of those around them.” As incredibly offensive as the site’s gore subreddits may be, they don’t fit the description of being used to “torment and demean” individuals. Fat People Hate does.
As far those bemoaning Reddit’s new policies, unfortunately all hope is lost for them. The point when someone begins a backlash against policies put in place to ensure that users can happily visit a website without fearing discrimination or abuse is the point when that happen has fallen too far in the deep end, and the site would be better without their patronage anyway. Those criticizing how Reddit is handling their anti-harassment policies, however, are well within their right to do so, and the question of what should/shouldn’t be banned and the topic of Reddit’s own definition of harassment should certainly be analysed and criticized when need be.
What’s important to remember here is that Reddit isn’t somehow disarming its users of their right to free speech – it’s trying to open its doors to more people who may otherwise be put off the site due to it containing web pages devoted to insulting people based upon their race, gender, sexual orientation and appearance. That’s far more empowering than them allowing 150,000 people to bully fat people.