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What is reddit thinking?

By Chris Tilbury

The ability to transfer ideas freely to anyone willing to listen, otherwise known as free speech, has been an integral part of society for centuries.

Free speech campaigners have been responsible for solving some of the world’s most complex and serious problems. Their efforts have been important in shaping the world as we know it.

It has also allowed the discussion of subjects thought to be horrific, disturbing and perverse, bringing them to the attention of governments and the public.

Free speech received a new lease of life through social media. Networking sites have allowed people to post and discuss their lives and discoveries on the internet. People wanting to discuss potentially controversial subjects have headed to open forums like reddit, where any and all discussion is welcome.

However, moderators have recently edited the website’s science subreddit, reddit.com./r/science, to remove posts and comments that denied climate change was occurring.

Many have identified the moderation of the climate change denial comments as an attempt to censor political opinion. Moderators say that there has been a “change in the culture” of the comments following their actions, a statement that sounds like a poorly dressed euphemism for some sort of Stalinist purge.

Administrators of the page have reinforced the rules for posting in the thread, reiterating that comments should include“a direct link to or a summary of peer-reviewed research which has been published in the last six months”.

Given the reputation that reddit’s open platform has, and the opportunity that it has provided over the past, it is interesting and a little puzzling as to why the moderators chose to edit content being published in this particular thread.

Comment threads like reddit.com/r/ttotm, “MorbidReality” and “NSFW-WTF” all contain graphic images that many people would find disturbing, disgusting and horrifying.

To give a few examples, “MorbidReality” is a subreddit “devoted to the most disturbing content the internet has to offer”, designed to allow people to “study and observe the darkest aspects of life and human nature”.

Posts to “MorbidReality” include a link to  Imgur and a series of images depicting a woman’s face gradually rotting off. Other content posted to the page includes links to the transcript of tapes played to the victims of David Parker Ray, a suspected American serial killer and known torturer of women.

Similarly, under the title “NSFW-WTF?!” users post content that is “not safe for work”. One of the most popular posts on the forum, currently ranked ninth, is a link to a video titled “88 nails”. Needless to say, the video is anything but essential viewing.

Many people will be horrified to think that such content exists on the internet, but reddit has provided people with the platform necessary to share it. A great majority will never attempt to search or view any of the content posted in these discusssions, but some people do.

It’s interesting to think that much of this content is published without moderation, when comments denying climate change – which is, as even the censors would agree, one of the most important discussion topics of our age – are deleted as “uninformed and outspoken opinions”.