There’s been a lot of weird revisionist history around Reddit recently. The Atlantic wrote a piece praising them for not currently being a hotbed of QAnon conspiracies, completely overlooking the fact that Reddit helped spread it in the first place. In fact, Reddit was so instrumental in the early spread of QAnon that they got a shoutout in a Q drop.
They praise their swift action on /r/Pizzagate, but in the same post remark on how /r/TheGreatAwakening had 70,000 members. If you want to know how bad it got before Reddit deigned to step in, read this incredibly detailed post about just one harassment campaign organised by Q acolytes.
But all that is in the past. There’s been a big push to make the Anti-Evil Operations team more visible. Has that made a difference? Not really.
Reddit – Still Pushing Conspiracies
I wanted to make a new Reddit account recently. I used an email address from a domain that I owned, and knew had no other user accounts (BurnYourFeelings.com)
Going through on-boarding, here were the first suggestions I got.
I asked someone else I knew to create an account on a domain I had a level of control over. Here’s what came up:
A complete throwaway with a fake email address does produce completely generic results, removing the ‘Just For You’ section entirely, so this has to be personalized somehow. A quick glance at this blog shows you that I’m no stranger to browsing conspiracy boards. UBlockOrigin doesn’t block every cookie. So that’s it. That’s the solution, right? No harm, no foul. Just serving up relevant content.
What Are They Recommending?
Reddit has no way of knowing why I’m browsing conspiracy boards. The algorithm might be watching me, but it isn’t watching that closely. Much like Facebook, Reddit is now creating a tailored road-map to ‘pill’ me.
Here’s a selection of posts from /r/conspiracy_commons the day I signed up (please note that I took my sweet time writing this so this first bunch are old)
A Q/COVID-denalist grifter!
A QAnon/Hollow-Earth true believer!
Racist memes from user Murder_All_Marxists, who deleted their own account. Reddit was apparently fine with the username.
In defense of the folks at /r/conspiracy_commons, today’s selection (15th October) was less actively horrendous, but number five on ‘Hot’ was still QAnon propaganda.
Just to re-emphasize. This is content that Reddit was actively recommending to me as a new user. I can’t find statistics on how many new accounts there are a day, but there are apparently 430 million active users right now. How many people are being recommended similar content??
Why Does It Matter?
If you hang around places like /r/QAnonCasualties you can get a real sense of what happens in the lives of people taken in by these posts. On the day I registered, I came across this incredibly telling and sad post.
There’s a human cost to algorithms. The anti-COVID propaganda seen here has an actual body-count. Democracies are being eroded by QAnon and Deep State content that pushed people into an alternative reality. And on the micro-level, divorce proceedings are being started, people are losing their kids, parents are alienated from their children.
Reddit can do better.