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, na├»ve, 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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October 2015 May Be a Quiet Month for AltSciFi. Here’s Why.

After the Patreon hack was disclosed (Patreon’s database and source code where stolen), it seemed like a good time to change passwords. This included the password for AltSciFi’s Twitter account.

Naturally, after changing the password this morning, it became impossible to log in. Any further changes would have to be verified using a “password reset request” sent to email.

The email account at mail.com that was the address on file at Twitter is now blocked because of “suspicious” or “automated” behaviour. In other words, the email is locked due to use of Tor (Tor is a program that helps you stay a bit more safely anonymous online). Anonymity also enables “cybercriminals” to make mischief, so many services block Tor indiscriminately. Of course, that sloppy catch-all blocking solution also denies access to many people who simply want to stay safe while browsing the Web.

Also, Twitter apparently does not offer real support in any way, via Tweets or email — “real” as in a real human being.

Hence, all attempts at contacting Twitter result in autoresponses that redirect the user back to a password reset form. The form sends a message to the email address that you have on file with Twitter.

What does that add up to, then?

October 2015 may be a quiet month for AltSciFi unless mail.com unlocks our email account.

It’s ultimately a good thing, though, in some ways. Here are some cautionary notes in case you want to start a community on Twitter.

1. Maintaining AltSciFi’s Twitter account was becoming unexpectedly time-consuming

Sifting for new material had grown to take up to three hours daily. It was an experiment in using Twitter to build an audience, and we were earning about one new subscriber per day as a reward for time spent.

The key in “curating” content online is that the real skill is invisible. It’s not what you include that matters most. The pieces that you don’t include give your Twitter account its distinctive tone and style.

The problem there is that most people don’t notice the absence of noise. Therefore, the value of tight focus and carefully selected content can be easy to miss or ignore. That’s a problem when your ultimate goal is to ask people to pay for the hours it takes to find high-quality information in a sea of nondescript Internet chatter.

It may be far more effective to create and upload original material for Twitter to devour, rather than painstaking shape the data that’s already there. Unless you have a knack for dumb-yet-funny jokes, or you’re an unusually pretty woman with a magnetically narcissistic personality (or lots of cleavage-baring selfies at least), Twitter is a very slow, time-intensive way to create a community.

2. The Twitter stats are either misleading or almost completely meaningless.

Statistics gathered by Twitter fall into two main categories:

1. Followers: “follow” is creepy Twitter jargon for “subscribe”, and “followers” are the stalker-lingo equivalent of “subscribers”.

Many Twitter denizens conform to the label, too. Most subscribers offer little response or input aside from their silent presence as an addition to your voluntarily voiceless army of Followers.

2. Impressions: an “impression” on Twitter is the moment when a user is shown one of your tweets. They don’t actually have to do anything in particular aside from (perhaps) see the tweet. Even though AltSciFi was averaging over 30,000 “impressions” per month, only one or two people would click through to read blog entries or look at the prototypes for our zine.

Lesson: impressions are nothing like page-hits across the rest of the Web. The have almost no value in terms of gauging your digital reach or popularity.

The Not-So-Holy Grail of Social Media

For many Twitter users, a high Follower count is akin to the Holy Grail of Social Media: at all times, you must increase your number of Followers. From experience, though, Twitter gladly obliges by failing to curb the rampant proliferation of spambots roaming free.

Spambots are accounts that are not run directly by humans. Instead, spambots are semi-autonomous programs unleashed into the wild, untamed environs of the Twitterverse where they attach, Succubus-like, to any account that seems viable, selling sex via nubile young webcam girls or shilling for shady Internet marketing schemes.

Perhaps the number of impressions was also being boosted by spambots as well. Taken together, Followers and Impressions can be eye-poppingly large numbers that add up to nearly zero.

Our Next Mutation

AltSciFi has been through over two years of continual cataclysmic evolution.

We started out as a reaction to shoddy community moderation on Reddit, calling ourselves “AllSciFi”. Then Reddit shut the AllSciFi subreddit down for “spamming” when we sent invitations to other users (there’s no discovery mechanism on Reddit, so messaging people by hand was the only option if we wanted to grow).

From there, we became “AltSciFi” and spread to Twitter, WordPress and Tumblr so that we could never be completely shut down.

This little hiccup of being locked out of Twitter has one major upside: three hours are now free every day for doing what matters most — creating new indie science fiction.

Maybe we’ll get our Twitter account back. The zine prototypes here on WordPress are still improving and will likely continue. We’ve faced setbacks before and they turn out to be blessings in disguise. So we’ll see about the next steps for AltSciFi. Stay tuned.