Reddit’s failure proves new media is not immune from corruption

As a paid up contributor to the dead tree press it’s hard not to come across as smug when New MediaTM flounders on the rocks of reality. But as a long-term user of Reddit it has not been a joy to see the experiment in democratic editorship suffer setbacks. Not an unmitigated joy, anyway.

For those out of step with the kids, Reddit is a website where users submit content from external sources, voting on their peers’ contributions to create an ever moving list of top submissions. Divided into sections called "subreddits", the website is mostly arbitrated by independent moderators who define a framework for their particular community.

Anybody can open up a subreddit and within the strictures of America’s First Amendment set the limits of the content they wish to see posted. If a particular subreddit is not satisfying its users, another one can spring up to take its place. Yet much of the appeal of a community comes from its popularity, and mischief is often undetectable to the average user.

The trouble started when the Daily Dot outed /r/technology for censoring submissions that contained words such as "NSA", "GCHQ" and "Snowden", precipitating a downgrade from the default list subreddits, an effective relegation to the backbenches of the site. Redditors, mostly made up of young, white American males, were suitably outraged.

As a new moderator was dropped in to clean up the mess and introduce a new era of transparency, it was hard not to laugh at the failings of New MediaTM to escape the rot said to beset the old sort, with proprietors inevitably pandering to their own prejudices. At this point it’s doubtful if /r/technology will ever regain its former stature.

Anybody involved in local politics could tell you the problem with the sort people who want to run a community is that they are, well, the sort of people who want to run a community. Volunteer organisations may not be chasing money, but that means that the only thing left to squabble over is power, which is hardly an improvement.

Much of Reddit is decently run, with lots of well moderated subreddits providing a berth for those of any persuasion or interest. Among the bickering the internet is famous for, Reddit provides links to hours of great content and many thoughtful communities amalgamating knowledge.

But for those seeking the unbiased new source, or the ability to "be your own editor", this serves as a reminder that editorship, or even curatorship, relies on the human at some point. Even a crowdsourced news site relies on someone to ensure it remains at least within the confines of the law. And where there are humans, there will be corruption.

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