Nastiness on Reddit: a result of unlimited free speech?

You may have noticed that Reddit, in particular the “subreddit” r/atheism, has been getting a lot of attention in the skeptical community. That’s not that surprising given that Reddit is one of the most popular sites on the Internet, regularly dealing with around 67 million hits per day with an Alexa rank of 124. The atheism subreddit is currently readily accessible from the Reddit front page.

The concept of Reddit is quite straightforward. It’s described as a social news website, where users find or generate content that they think is interesting and post it to one of the many “subreddits”. Other users can then add their own comments and either “upvote” or “downvote” the posts. The most popular posts appear on the front page of Reddit, which Reddit itself refers to as the front page of the Internet. As you might expect, any post which ends up here receives a huge amount of traffic!

Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Reddit carries the burden of a gigantic double-edged sword: it is almost completely uncensored. As a result, pretty much anything is available on Reddit. Have a look at the highly NSFW /r/spacedicks to see what I mean. Actually, don’t.

As a result of this lack of moderation, Reddit can be an uninhibited playground of ideas where you can criticize any world religion or batshit crazy post without fear of censorship. However, it’s infested with various idiots, bigots of all kinds, and probably the most prevalent of all, trolls. Although a lot of these people on Reddit repulse me, I have a coping mechanism.

Firstly, I never expect too much. I know that if I need advise on any serious matter, I’m not going to get it on Reddit. After that, I set my default position on Reddit to “meh”. In other words, I need a good reason to care about something I read if I see it on Reddit. If it’s an insult, I’ll ignore it. If it’s a weak pun that Steve Wright would be proud of, I’ll ignore it. If it’s funny, insightful, intelligent etc I’ll read it and take it on board. As an example, I made a Rage Comic a little while ago after a mildly traumatic experience in the shower:

I’m a big fan of anything that grabs people’s imaginations and develops organically, so I’m right at home with the sillyness and general flippancy of Rage Comics. It took me about 30 seconds to make this comic, and it received quite a lot of upvotes and a fair few comments. They ranged from the utterly ridiculous but imaginative to the insulting:


Only fags and women use conditioner. Let’s hope you’re a woman.

Nice eh? I know people have experienced much worse than that, but the point is I didn’t react (yes, I’m aware of the irony of writing about it here). I just ignored them and carried on, the trolls remained unfed. Unnecessary drama avoided. If you are being trolled/insulted on Reddit, the best thing you can do is rise above it and ignore it.

At the end of the day, if you want the level of free speech Reddit offers, you’re going to have to accept that it also extends to people who you wouldn’t cross the road to save. As you can’t get rid of them, the best thing you can do is not encourage them. Don’t feed the trolls.


  1. Lee Christie

    Everything I’ve ever heard about Reddit has been bad. I think I first head of it from that demon-haunted world incident, and have since heard and seen much worse from them too. Reddit seems like they’re not-quite-4chan-but-trying.

    • Tom

      It’s not that surprising that Reddit has acquired a bad reputation in some skeptic circles, as Reddit is the medium rather than the message. It’s a lot easier to criticise the service than the anonymous users.

      I don’t go on 4chan simply because I’ve heard it’s got more paedophiles than the Catholic church.

  2. Moobert

    Two down voted trolls (-15 and -3 karma) on a 4chan-isk subreddit with around 450,000+ subscribers? That seems good to me.

    As for the other comments, thats just down to the fact you get more points on reddit for being funny rather than correct. Shampoo does seem to bring out some rather odd redditors though… 🙂

    Reddit’s moderation style means its effectiveness will vary wildly based on the moderators setup within each subreddit. Reddit’s creators are also too hands off at times on what subreddits should even be created, as you pointed out.

    “r/atheism” has 3 moderators, 700,000+ subscribers and no submission guide lines. So I’d look for a smaller more moderated subreddit for this topic.

  3. I also think there’s an important distinction between people who get abuse purely because they’re black/white/male/female/young/old/skeptic/theists etc… and those who get criticism for their behaviour who ‘happen’ to be female/young/atheist etc…

    A HUGE difference that too many people hide behind rather than accept when they’ve been wrong, dishonest or simply rude.

  4. Tom, I just saw your comments on SheThought. I just thought I’d let you know that when I read it a bit earlier, I missed comments 12 & 13 too. In fact, I don’t think they were there when you posted what is now comment 14. I remember your comment (14) coming right after comment 11 with nothing in-between. I’m not suggesting that they added those posts later to make you look like you ignored them, but it does seem very strange.

    Also, asking for evidence? In the skeptic community? Get out!

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