Fixing Reddit for Women and Diverse Science Fiction Fans (and everyone else)

Reddit has been broken for a long, long time. The situation only becomes clearer as the site grows and tries half-heartedly to repair itself. The problem may be embedded in the structure of how Reddit works.

What Reddit rather sadly depicts is that the idea of a broad, open, public space for discussion is likely impossible to create. Reddit, and by extension, a lot of the early web, is often thought of as a kind of a prelapsarian state before Facebook, Twitter, and those darn social justice warriors ruined everything.

Trouble is, saying that freedom came first gets things backwards: idealized states of purity from the past always conceal the power relations that enabled them. Reddit’s free speech, enacted, is mainly a home for young, naïve, and mostly white men to talk in the abstract about equality and philosophy without having to confront their biases.

Reddit Will Always Be a Home for Hatred and Harassment

The only other options seem to be Voat, which is basically 4Chan + Reddit, and Raddle, which is the political opposite of Voat.

So there’s no real alternative right now for people who just want to talk about sci-fi. Reddit seems structurally broken and its creators are unable or unwilling to repair it in meaningful ways.

Those problems haven’t gone away.

What Nithyanand came to realize was that Reddit represents an important part of the story about the spread of misinformation across social media platforms. While it may seem that Reddit forums are insular, the site punches above its weight in influence on the internet, said Brian Solis, an analyst focusing on social media at research firm Altimeter. It’s the fifth most popular website in the US, according to analytics firm Alexa, with more than 250 million users.

“It is where a lot of information starts and spreads,” Solis said.

Reddit was a misinformation hotspot in 2016 election, study says

Since the existing Reddit seems irretrievably broken…

…what if we create a new Reddit that works for everyone?

(In case you don’t use Reddit, a “subreddit” is a community created and run by its members on the Reddit website.)

Here are four key issues that Reddit refuses to fix.

1. Blocking doesn’t work properly.

At present, blocking a user doesn’t prevent them from seeing your posts and comments. It only prevents you from seeing theirs. That amounts to a blocking function that “empowers” you to become completely deaf when other people are talking behind your back on Reddit.

In other words, the blocking function is at least 50% useless.

2. Reddit won’t help if you’re being harassed.

If you’ve ever been harassed on Reddit and asked the site moderators for help, you probably experienced this yourself. In one recent case, Reddit’s “help and support” team openly admitted that they prioritise gaining new users rather than helping existing ones. They got rid of their “probation” period for new users where you had to answer a Captcha for a week or so. Combined with an API that allows you to automatically reply to other users’ posts and comments, Reddit “empowers” its users to stalk and harass each other across the entire site.

And as you know, subreddit moderators are often not technically skilled enough, or just are too apathetic, to deal with the issue on a subreddit-by-subreddit basis.

3. There’s no reliable way to discover new subreddits you might like.

Aside from relying on useful sidebar listings like you’ll find on a few pages, there’s no reliable way to find other subreddits you might like. If you contact users directly, Reddit will delete your subreddit and your account for “spamming”. That’s a big part of the reason why there are so few successful new subreddits. The discovery mechanism is pitifully inadequate.

4. The “dudebro” culture.

Have you noticed that everyone on Reddit refers to each other as “dude” or “bro”? That’s a problem.

You see a woman on the street, or in class, or at work. Do you automatically walk up to her and say “hey dude” or “what’s poppin’, bro”? Cutesy answers aside, no, you don’t, any more than a woman would walk up to you and say, “what’s up, sis?”

Reddit doesn’t have a woman problem. It has a dudebro problem. Reddit’s official statistics say otherwise, but in everyday use, there are practically no women here. Or the women are hiding their gender for fear of being harassed, which actual women will often tell you is the case.

The same is true for LGBT people and essentially any ethnicity or culture that isn’t the majority Internet demographic in North America (i.e. white and middle class or above). You don’t notice because diverse voices don’t bother to come here.

In other words, Reddit sucks if you’re not a white, straight, dude (or bro, or dudebro). Compare Reddit to the diversity you find on Twitter, for example. Things are strangely plain-vanilla here on Reddit, and everyone misses out because of it.

So what do you think? Would you join a version of Reddit that sucked less in these four key ways? The code for “old Reddit” (from 2017) is open-source and freely available for anyone. So we can make this real if we decide to go ahead and do it. Add a comment with your thoughts if you want to help, contribute, or sign up. And if you want to take this idea and create your own project, go for it.

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Science Fiction as the Intersection of Technology, Sex and Art

Where does AltSciFi come from? Who are we? What are we about?

These questions are continually refined as the composition of our membership changes over time.

AltSciFi presently operates on three axes:

Tech, art, and sex.

* The term “sexies” is a neologism. It means: people of a non-conforming sexual orientation, including gay, lesbian, and alternative lifestyle practitioners. Consensual sex is an interpersonally creative act between one, two or more people, not bound by arbitrary social codes, mores, imperatives or opprobrium. Asexual, transhuman and posthuman identities that appreciate human sexuality are also welcome here.

1. Techies who love art and sex;
2. Artsies who love tech and sex;
3. Sexies* who love tech and art.

Art-loving techies are our primary audience, although only because they are most intimately connected to technology. Who would love sci-fi more than people who are creating the future?

Cryptography and information/network security are the two aspects of tech that will have the greatest basic impact on our global civilization in decades to come. Hence, we focus there as a foundation for building plausible, science-based “hard sci-fi” ideas. The freedom of the individual and our collective survival depend on the balance of secrecy, privacy, and publicly accessible information.

The Race and Politics of AltSciFi

We are, however, apolitical and non-racial.

“But that’s impossible!”, you might say. “We all have a race, and any citizen lives in a political environment. We all have politics of some kind; if you pay taxes to a central government, you’re supporting its political system, too.”

Here’s what apolitical and non-racial means in this context:

Politics are essentially a form of theater for the average citizen. Real politics consists of evaluating issues, making up your own mind, and voting for candidates who align with your perspective. All the bluster and arguments that take place online are little more than gossip for those who are bored and enjoy wasting time with endless debates.

Race is a communally believed fiction; there is no scientific basis for dividing humans into “races”. Opinions about race tend to change glacially, in tandem with socially acceptable beliefs about art, technology and sex (i.e. culture). Simply pointing out the fictional nature of race is enough. For our purposes, the rest is little more than political chatter that often encodes and hides socioeconomic influences and biases.

Gender is a fiction as well; it is a set of acculturated behaviors, not biological facts. The existence of transgender and transsexual people further provides evidence for this truth. Gender is considered (by some) to be more fluid than race, hence it offers a glimpse into the malleable nature of human identity.

Race may one day be recognized as changeable (yet for some people, intrinsic) as gender. For now, science fiction can address both race and gender directly or through metaphors of the “alien” and the “Other” — creatures who are foreign, yet nonetheless essentially human.

Both Human and Alien: Beauty and Sex in Science Fiction

Technology and art are obvious, but why is sex so important in the AltSciFi formulation of sci-fi?

Sex matters because it is at once fundamental to our existence as animals, and at the same time the source of endless doubts and controversies. A naive and curious space alien might ask: What makes a man? What makes a woman? Is it not strange that in some cultures, women jealously guard their breasts as if nipples have magical powers? Isn’t it fascinating that in some parts of the world, there are more than two recognized genders? At a time when genetically perfect babies can be born in laboratories, how does sex, gender and sexuality change? What happens when a person born with one set of genitalia can decide to undergo hormonal treatments and gender reassignment surgery?

Deviancy, Fantasy and Consensuality

It’s also worthy of note that most people have engaged in, or at least fantasized about, sexual activities that they dare not share with others for fear of shame or ostracism. Fictional characters and scenarios — not only in romance novels or erotic stories — provide an ideal medium to explore such issues in creative ways.

All consensual sex is “normal” as far as all involved parties agree that their activities are based on shared desires. Perversion begins in minds that would censor the prerogative of others to safely enjoy themselves in a private space. Fiction that points up such a dissonance between (morally) right and (socially) “proper” uncovers a diverse menu of sci-fi story possibilities.

Beauty, Style, Biology and Technology

What is beauty in a world of fluid sexual and gender identity?

These are all questions that are ripe for a genre like science fiction to play with and expand upon. Sexuality obsesses, repulses, delights and drives us. Technology of various kinds is opening up avenues for personal beauty, fashion, style and expression in ways that were both socially and physiologically unheard of only a few decades ago. Imagining possible and plausible futures requires a comprehensive vision that includes gender, sex and sexuality.

You might say that AltSciFi exists at the heart of a Venn diagram of sorts: tech, art, and sex.

It’s a great place to be, and offers a uniquely open perspective to the varieties of human experience. If we can see even a few years into one of many futures, we may then able to shine a beam or two back onto who we are right now, and who we want to be. Insight into ourselves, after all, is what real science fiction is all about.

Clickbait Journalism, Gender in Video Games, and a New Direction for Independent Science Fiction in All Media

Rest assured: the topic of this article is decidedly not “ethics in gamer journalism.” The topic here may seem to center on video games when it is, quite frankly, all about the money.

The Backlash Was Only The Beginning

On September 1st, 2015, technologist Brianna Wu teamed with writer Ellen McGrody to write a factually inaccurate, morally wrong-headed article.

The article was factually incorrect for reasons elaborated in Part One of this two-part series.

It also twisted a gender rights issue — transgender representation in videogames.
The effect was to stir empty controversy, generating cheap click-bait for their host, themarysue.com.

Predictably, a strong backlash arose among many readers who voiced their disgust both on themarysue.com website and on Twitter.

That was only the beginning, however. Brianna Wu further impugned her own credibility, responding to criticism by tweeting personal attacks against her detractors rather than addressing the factual inaccuracies in her article:

“The extreme anger and aggressive denial of my piece about the evidence #Samus is transgender shows how much transphobia is in gamer culture.”

In some cases, it’s not denial. It’s that the article was incorrect and wrong. Cherrypicking convenient facts and ignoring disconfirming evidence has nothing to do with “gamer culture”, and everything do to with manipulation of data to serve an agenda. Note also how all who disagree are automatically labeled as “extreme”, “angry”, or “aggressive”, and as denying some kind of nonexistent “truth” that exists only in Brianna Wu’s mind.

“Why does this upset people so much? Well, that answer is simple. You hate transgender people, and can’t imagine a gaming icon as one.”

No, the answer is different, yet equally simple: some people dislike being manipulated for the sake of pseudo-civil rights clickbait. There are real issues to write about in the gender rights arena. Why waste time digging up twenty year-old quotes from video games and twisting them for the sake of a bogus feel-good essay?

The facts compiled in Part One of this series were the result of a less than twenty-minute investigation via search engine DuckDuckGo.

“I need you to understand, your unconscious bias against transgender people is killing them. It killed my friend Evelyn, who was only 19.”

A shoddy article about a videogame character has nothing to do with the unfortunate death of anyone’s real-life friends. Aside from the ludicrous assertion that “unconscious biases” can kill people, claiming such deadly “bias” on the part of people you’ve never met is ridiculous mass armchair psychoanalysis-at-a-distance.

“I’m going to make all the difference I can, while I can. Sadly, enduring endless barrage of personal attacks is part of changing the world.”

The unmistakably hubris-riddled, self-obsessive grandiosity of this tweet says more than any other one could have done on its own.

Question: How did such a shoddy, manipulative article end up published in the first place?
Answer: Because no one was paying for anything better.

This two-part series of AltSciFi articles is not a “hit piece” or attempt at character assassination against Brianna Wu or Ellen McGrody.

In spite of their perhaps-virtuous motives, Wu and McGrody wrote and promoted an article whose premise was misleading and facts were badly cherrypicked. The ultimate responsibility for such “clickbait journalism”, however, rests entirely on the shoulders of publications that give space to such poorly chosen prose.

Regardless of the stated subject or domain, any website powered by advertising is also driven by baiting users to click on advertisements. This inevitably leads down the bottomless sewer drain of searching for “high-concept” articles that will grab random readers by the eyeballs and keep them looking for long enough to follow an ad.

Mechanics of the “Free” Clickbait Internet Economy

The economics of clickbaiting are calculated by the thousands: thousands of people need to view a click-driven website before an appreciable number will “convert” into buyers.

What does this mean?

It means that if a site is driven by clicks, it’s also essentially and inevitably the Web version of a trashy tabloid magazine. The fundamental business model is exactly the same. A tabloid strives to shock with lurid headlines and scandalous stories; advertising-driven websites are financially sustained by the same set of economic pressures. At no point in time is quality the top priority.

At worst, advertisers and websites (and even ISPs) collect your personal browsing data, build behavioral profiles of users, and sell it to the highest bidder.

Hence, we end up with fake flag-waving by writers like Wu and McGrody — in this case, spinning a twenty-year-old transphobic comment into a false “victory” for transgender gamers. Even if the article isn’t worth the pixels it’s printed on, a high viewer count makes it a “winner”.

Wu and McGrody may not have set out to manipulate the emotions and hopes of their audience. Their intentions may have been pure. The publication for which they wrote, however, did nothing to prevent their tabloid-worthy article from being printed on its pages. Everyone involved simply had too much to gain and too little to lose.

How can clickbait journalism and blatantly exploitative gender-baiting be prevented?

If a publication’s readers aren’t financially invested in the works produced, there is no way to measure the value of those works aside from “more, more and more”. More pageviews, more clicks, more ads.

This leads to the slippery slope of baiting readers with tabloid-style “journalism”. If your work is based on enticing a multitude of random eyeballs, touchscreen taps and mouse clicks, the content of the work becomes essentially irrelevant.

By contrast, if the work is measured by readers’ sacrifice of their own funds for it, the measurement is both immediate and clear at all times. Uphold your standards of quality, or quickly see revenues drop.

AltSciFi aims to solve this problem in one (or more) of the following three ways:

1. Use a subscription model.

The example of Netflix shows the power of harnessing paying subscribers to create new, high-quality material. From television to movies, Netflix is changing how media is made.

AltSciFi has aspirations along similar lines, especially for perennial fan favorites like Ghost in the Shell that no Hollywood studio could treat in a faithful way.

2. Sell merchandise that people actually want.

This is self-explanatory. From punk rock shows to the Star Wars saga, giving people tangible goods is a necessary aspect of having a viable brand. In a world of ever-expanding bandwidth, information itself is becoming free whether we like it or not. Physical merchandise needn’t be fancy — it can be anything that serves as a symbol of what it means to be a part of AltSciFi.

3. Take a “public radio” approach.

The American radio network, National Public Radio (NPR), has mastered the art of fundraising. See also Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia. Taking donations at regular intervals can create a collaborative sense of “racing to the top” and supporting a good cause.

A Commitment to Authentic Indie Science Fiction Across Media

One of our larger purposes is to do what science fiction is truly and perfectly designed for: to explore human social, economic, technological and political issues through speculative fiction in a variety of media.

The only way to do that is to first uphold and maintain a standard of basic ethics and quality at all times. That, in turn, depends on all of us, both collectively and as individuals, most crucially including you.

Real science fiction pushes boundaries; hence, it is not designed as a mainstream “popcorn” genre. Most Hollywood “sci-fi” movies are simply action films with nifty gadgets attached.

To maintain a commitment to authentic science fiction, then, AltSciFi is not using a typical”clickbait” model to sustain our existence. The three alternatives above will serve as our basic revenue model; they are ethical, transparent, and safeguard everyone’s right to personal identity and data privacy.

Will AltSciFi survive, succeed and thrive in a world of pervasive privacy violation, tawdry gender-baiting, abuse of social issues for monetary gain, and casual disregard for even the most easily-found facts? The only way to find out is to try. If you agree with our purpose, join us in our ongoing adventure to support real science fiction — to imagine and enjoy visions of futures heretofore untold.

Science Fiction as a Journey of Gender and Sexual Identity: Conversation with Author K.M. Szpara

A conversation between K.M. Szpara, Sunny Morraine and others.

Published author K.M. Szpara offers a personal account of becoming a science fiction writer, and how doing so is inextricable from an ongoing journey of gender and sexual identity. Szpara’s thoughts spurred a larger conversation that is included below.

The text in this entry is adaped from “The Importance of Trans People In Narrative” by A. Merc Rustad and has been lightly edited for clarity.

K.M. Szpara is the author of “Nothing is Pixels Here”, published in June 2015 (Issue 61), Lightspeed Magazine.

In response to the article “Why We Need Trans Romance” by E.E. Ottoman, K.M. Szpara (@KMSzpara) writes:

I want to speak more to how important this is. I’m a gay transmale [female-to-male] SFF writer who is heavy on [writing] romance and erotica. For a long time growing up, I read m/m [male/male] romance where I could find it (mostly fanfic and Anne Rice book — thanks, Anne!).

I didn’t yet understand what that meant for me. I started writing m/m. I knew that was how I processed love, too. I remember discovering I didn’t have all the parts to make sex happen for me the way I wanted it — jarring but not the end.

I continued writing all male protagonists because that was the headspace I enjoyed.

Even more so from a first-person POV. I got to “be there” in my fiction, [but] still didn’t even realize people could transition [from one gender to another] because I had no idea what transgender was at that point. Once I did and decided to transition socially and medically, I was told by JHU doctors no gay men would want to sleep with me.

“Who would date you?”, was the question I got from everyone.

It’s hard to be 100% confident about medically transitioning because some of the changes are permanent and you’re told you will BE WEIRD… but I did it anyway. All this time I continued writing cis m/m characters because that’s how I saw myself.

That’s how I wish I’d been born.

I already have body issues so please, everyone else, emphasize my worries of never being loved or having sex with a caring person again [1].

This year I wrote my first transgender character. It was published and I had a ducking hard time doing that. I had to re-find myself as “sexy” and — **spoilers** there is no transgender sex in the story but **end spoilers** — BUT! I am finally ready to write one, an erotic cis/trans science fiction/fantasy story.

It has taken me years, and I’m still nervous no one will buy it for their m/m anthology.

“Do you accept transmen?” If ‘yes’, do they really?

The moral of this story is, I feel bad writing cis and/or wanting to be cis because I also want people to honor transgender bodies. If you want to help and are an editor/agent/respected writer, make it explicitly known that you accept and desire transgender bodies in the writing you seek.

Enable us.

Sunny Moraine (@dynamicsymmetry) responds:
Something pretty gross that happened a while back was a major M/M review site rejecting reviewing books that featured explicit sex scenes along those lines because of genitalia.

Got called the FUCK out but it was a major look at transphobia in the genre.

K.M. Szpara (@KMSzpara)
:( THIS SHIT. I keep considering querying in advance: do you accept transgender characters? But I probably shouldn’t. I should just bombard the fuck out of the market.

Now if I could just write faster… Lol

Sunny Moraine
Yeah, I feel like the best response to that is to write the hell out of it. So go you. :D

Benjanun Sriduangkaew (@benjanun_s)
Huge difference between stating that they seek that writing versus actually, well, publishing it though. :/

A. Merc Rustad (@Merc_Rustad)
Agreed, the follow-through on PUBLISHING is a big step that needs to happen.

no ordinary fishtrap (@afishtrap)
Really, multiple gateways need to get on the ball: agent, editor, distributors, bookstores, and customers.

The problem is that it ends up being a massive multi-gate disconnect, because readers want/need it, absolutely. The only way to overcome each gateway in turn is if stories exist. :)

K.M. Szpara
True. And if we self-reject first because we’re not “invited”, then we’ll never know. I think transgender people self-reject a LOT because others don’t even think to include us, and we know it.

A. Merc Rustad
I’m plotting a novel now, which has a transgender guy as the main character, and I want to add explicit sex scenes when he dates other guys, for that reason. I want it to be very positive, because I CRAVE positive portrayals and need to see them in fiction.

K.M. Szpara
YES YES YES PLS. Would read. The only thing I ever run into is what transgenderism looks like outside the modern medical and social system. You have to get creative; can’t just have a person with a flat chest, and vagina, and be like “they’re trans!” Because it’s also a social, internal and sometimes medical experience/personal history. Creative! Writing! SFF! Lol

A. Merc Rustad
We need ALL THE STORIES in ALL THE GENRES with many types of transgender experience and positivity about transgender people and bodies.

Further Reading:

Rustad, A. Merc. (2015, August 13). The Importance of Trans People In Narrative. [Web page]. Retrieved from https://storify.com/Merc_Rustad/the-importance-of-trans-people-in-narrative.

Queer Dictionary. [n.d.] Cisgender (adj.). [Web page]. Retrieved from http://queerdictionary.tumblr.com/post/9264228131/cisgender-adj.

Szpara, K.M. (2015, June). Nothing is Pixels Here [Short story]. Retrieved from http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/nothing-is-pixels-here/.

Ottoman, E.E. (2014, October 31). Why We Need Trans Romance. [Personal account]. Retrieved from http://www.queerromancemonth.com/ee-ottoman/.