This is it, I guess. Last night, Americans decided that Donald J. Trump deserves to be the president of the United States. Collectively, over 58 million people went into a polling booth yesterday and decided to vote for a candidate who preys on the weak, attacks the marginalized, and is so volatile that his aids needed to take his Twitter account away from him in the final days of the campaign. This serial liar and philanderer, who is accused of sexually assaulting a dozen women, is now the president-elect, and that is terrifying, and it is the reason I am leaving Reddit.
For those who don’t know, I have been a member of the Reddit community for over eight years, and last year I published my PhD dissertation on the politics and discourse found across the website. I spent four years researching, analyzing, and engaging the Reddit community, and it has been my primary online destination and community for just as long. I saw Alexis Ohanian speak at the University of Colorado, Boulder a few years ago, and even bought a signed copy of his book. I also still have great respect for a number of communities on the site (r/hiphopheads, r/askscience, r/badsocialscience), but over the last several years, Reddit has become a source for some of the most vitriolic and hateful communities on the internet that deal exclusively in conspiracy theories, personal attacks, and misinformation. In-depth discussions of politics, philosophy and science are long gone, and are instead replaced by hateful memes, pointless arguments, and generally thoughtless and careless discourse. I refuse to continue to contribute to such a toxic community.
While my dissertation points to a number of different causes for the decline of progressive discourse on Reddit outside of the 2016 presidential campaign, president-elect Trumps propagation of the rhetoric and misinformation promoted by the alt-right has encouraged the deplorable corners of Reddit to enter the mainstream under the guise of r/the_donald. Shitposters, trolls, and misinformation are regularly furthered across the front-page of r/all, pushed to the top of the site by this subreddit. Dissent is quelled through memes; calls for progressive political action are shouted down by shouts of cuck and SJW; cute cats and pornography drown out any opportunity for civil discourse and community building.
I remember when I first began using Reddit. I saw all of the potential for innovative economic models and progressive political discourse. The 1990s promise of a public sphere that emphasized communicative action and intellectually honest discourse seemed to have been fulfilled, at least to me. I saw Redditors change their minds when faced with facts and rational arguments; I saw concessions and the building of political consensus based on discourse and open communication; I saw a generation of millennials discard the label of slacktivists in favor of political activism that had real-world consequences. And for a while, as the site grew, the political potential for grassroots, progressive political activism seemed to grow with it, culminating with Redditors help in pass net neutrality laws in early 2015.
Simultaneously, in the far corners of Reddit, out of site of the admins, racism, misogyny, and pedophilia festered. Although the admins shut down the particularly pernicious areas of the site (r/jailbait, r/thefappening), the Reddit audience grew increasingly disruptive as problematic communities were removed. Finally, in the summer of 2015, the site faced a full-fledged rebellion after banning the r/fatpeoplehate subreddit, forcing interim-CEO Ellen Pao to resign. While the drama surrounding r/fatpeoplehate eventually died down, the reverberations remain as hate speech has gained tremendous traction across the site. As Donald Trump developed momentum, along with his attacks on minorities and progressives over the last year and a half, the members of banned communities, like r/coontown, quickly found a new home on r/the_donald, and their posts reached the front page of the internet, regardless of facts or consequence. The front-page of the internet no longer generates the type of discourse with which I want to participate, and that makes me sad.
When I defended my dissertation in May 2015, Nabil Echchaibi, a member of my dissertation committee, encouraged me to continue my research into the website after my dissertation was published through book or journal publications. I told him I would definitely continue to explore and analyze the website. But, I now feel the need to apologize to him, and the rest of my dissertation committee, because I am done. I am leaving Reddit. I can no longer defend my academic or personal use of the site that gives such a large platform to the alt-right, white nationalist and neoliberal discourses that reflect, and is reflected by the new president elect.