David R. Henderson  

Reddit: Lenny Bruce Would Understand

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Capitalism is the best. It's free enterprise. Barter. Gimbels, if I get really rank with the clerk, "Well I don't like this", how I can resolve it? If it really gets ridiculous, I go, "Frig it, man, I walk." What can this guy do at Gimbels, even if he was the president of Gimbels? He can always reject me from that store, but I can always go to Macy's. He can't really hurt me. Communism is like one big phone company. Government control, man. And if I get too rank with that phone company, where can I go? I'll end up like a schmuck with a dixie cup on a thread.
This is from here, but I remember first reading it in the 1973 version of David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom.

I'm not a big user of reddit. Let me correct that statement: I don't use it at all. But it obviously works for many people. And reddit might lose market share soon. Why? Because reddit, under the new CEO, Ellen Pao, the woman who recently lost a sexual harassment lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, announced a ban on certain kinds of groups. The announcement states:

It is not easy to balance these values, especially as the Internet evolves. We are learning and hopefully improving as we move forward. We want to be open about our involvement: We will ban subreddits that allow their communities to use the subreddit as a platform to harass individuals when moderators don't take action. We're banning behavior, not ideas.
Today we are removing five subreddits that break our reddit rules based on their harassment of individuals. If a subreddit has been banned for harassment, you will see that in the ban notice. The only banned subreddit with more than 5,000 subscribers is r/fatpeoplehate.

I'm not challenging her action. I might be tempted to do the same. And I'm not making the charge that she's censoring. She's not. She's setting standards and people who use reddit can decide whether to comply or go elsewhere.

And that leads to my prediction. They will go elsewhere. Here's one of my favorite comments by a reddit user:

I can picture her in her office "Yes, people are going to be upset, but where else are they going to find funny pictures on the internet?"

You could say "Good riddance." Indeed, if what she says in her announcement is accurate, I would say "Good riddance." But I also predict a loss in market share.

I don't necessarily predict a loss in market value. Here's how Fortune magazine put the issue:

Reddit may also be under pressure to combat abuse after the site raised $50 million in funding last year from high-profile venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and others. The investors will eventually expect the site, which is independent operated, but owned by the same holding company as magazine giant Conde Nast, to attract more mainstream advertisers that would otherwise shy away from being associated with harassment.


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CATEGORIES: Competition




COMMENTS (12 to date)
AbsoluteZero writes:

David, you mean Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom, right?

KevinDC writes:

Actually, I think it's David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom.

AbsoluteZero writes:

Thanks KevinDC. Yes, that makes sense, the first edition of The Machinery of Freedom is 1973.

David R. Henderson writes:

Thanks, guys. I wouldn’t have thought I would have ever made that mistake. I think it’s the jet lag.

MikeP writes:

I think it’s the jet lag.

Still bummed about Winnipeg? There's always next year.

Anon writes:

Reddit is a populist, hugbox cesspool where any dissenting opinions or criticisms that may hurt anyone's feelings get squelched.

This is undoubtedly a play to attract more mainstream advertisers as said above. The rationale for banning those subreddits is hilarious. There are a host of other subreddits that harass and attack individuals on a regular basis, but they have political ideologies which journalists are sympathetic to, and so they do not receive the same sort of mainstream criticism.

Devil's Advocate writes:

"Freedom of Speech" includes the freedom to negate speech when the venture is private. Alas, this debate is about whether Pao's decision was good business (i.e., profitable), correct? What business has survived when they embraced (or allowed) offensive material? 'Playboy' magazine comes to mind. I think her decision is based more on the characteristics of current customers and the loss of a fraction of the same. Like the old saying goes, "Any press is good press."

lemmy caution writes:

They got rid of a group that makes fun of pictures of fat people. No big loss as far as I am concerned.

Urstoff writes:

Reddit sort of seems like a bit of a natural monopoly. Everyone goes to reddit because everyone goes to reddit. Of course, their position isn't that strong. Digg seemed like that too, but look at them now. But I think it will take a new format that's superior to reddit in posting info and allowing comments to really cause it to lose much market share.

NZ writes:
What business has survived when they embraced (or allowed) offensive material? 'Playboy' magazine comes to mind.
There's a compartmentalization of standards and expectations across parts of our culture that people often fail to account for. Reddit could easily shift over to Playboy's neck of the woods (pornography, to be specific)--it's an internet site, after all--but until they do that, their domain is a kind of megacenter where nerds come together mainly to talk. That comes with different kinds of expectations than what Playboy's got.
Bill Conerly writes:

Every business needs to decide which customers it does not want. Taking all comers is almost always suboptimal. Turning down business is hard (I know from experience) but necessary.

Craig writes:


I found former Reddit CEO, Yishan Wong's Quora answer interesting. In short, this particular subreddit seemed to organize harassment outside of the reddit universe. Reddit chose not to lend any resources to that endeavor. Individuals interested in that may go elsewhere. End of story?

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