Reddit has banned /r/fatpeoplehate.
There are entire subreddits dedicated to pictures of dead kids, racial epithets towards black people, and a lovely little spot promoting beating women with the tagline "Punch her in the face… to prove you're right." But hating porkers like me is apparently a bridge too far?
Look Reddit, you aren't that guy. Your whole motif is that you are the wild west of the Internet. You aren't quite the horrific morass that the deep web conceals, but you are about as close as it gets to unregulated, ungoverned free-for-all in discussion-town. The idea that any altruistic community-builder or wanton sociopath can construct a subreddit on any topic short of kiddie porn or drug trafficking is your entire shtick, and it's the reason your community has grown large enough to exert its own gravity and even impact how we handle terrorism in this country. Your recent banning of subreddits dedicated to hating fat people is a confusing, wrong-headed move for you.
Full disclosure, I'm a "fat people." I've dipped a toe in some of those fat hate subreddits you've been host to, just to see what kinds of human dregs exist in the churning belly of your network and to see what all the fuss was about. I've got some fairly thick skin, if you'll pardon the pun. Even so, some of the seething commentary in /r/hamplanets made me wince, and I left that subreddit after my last visit feeling quite down about myself. Ask anyone who knows me; they'll tell you I've the self-confidence to rival a charismatic despot from a small tropical island nation. As Community Manager, I wade through criticism and personal attacks without end on a day-to-day basis – and the role as part nanny, part lightning rod. But for some reason, that terrible little subreddit managed to phase me. The hate had a laser-like focus and debased people.
In the past three years, I've lost 210 pounds. I was huge, and I'm still large, and chances are I'll always be a big guy. I'm working on it, and making progress, and trying to keep healthy with hiking, kayaking and eating right. The people in the fat-hate subreddits don't care for the human side and hate for the sake of hate because they feel like they are doing fat people a solid by making them feel bad. If they feel bad enough, the logic goes, perhaps the fatties will make a positive change, like an alcoholic hitting rock bottom. Their hope and mindset is to help put them there.
In a perfect world, these subreddits would not exist, because people who visit them are actively hurting others with what they say, as well as themselves, by engaging in the cycle of personal destruction. The net effect of a bunch of people getting together and sharing their hate for others on a deeply emotional level is never, ever good. Don't mistake my thoughts on this for fat-empowerment, fat-enablist garbage at the other end of the spectrum either, though. Fat people like myself should strive to be healthier. It's not hate to point out positive improvements one can make in diet or lifestyle. These subreddits have been specifically and expressly about making fun of fat people at the expense of fat people, and individuals are dehumanized without any consideration.
As wrong as they may be, as awful as the commentary may be, Reddit still committed a major error by banning them. This isn't a "Freedom of Speech" issue, as any company or individual can regulate and control what goes on within their own private property, and Reddit's website is as much their turf as your home is yours. If I say you can only talk about purple ducks in my house, and you do not abide by that edict, I am within my rights to eject you – and you can proceed to talk about things entirely unrelated to purple ducks in the public domain or your own space.
Reddit is in the wrong here because they are taking a very selective scalpel in carving out one teensy-tiny area of their sprawling empire that for some reason offends their management to a greater extent than the other egregious subreddits.
In the same light, the weakness of Reddit is also its power and the reason it has grown so large and is such an essential part of the Internet right now. Providing a means to any individual to construct a massive community of like-minded individuals, bringing them together with a common cause to share commentary, images, links and support is a glorious thing. The immense power of Reddit's community engine, and the fantastic side effects are due largely to the tremendous latitude their guidelines allow in the creation of controversial subjects.
Features like Ask Me Anythings that have given everyday people opportunities to engage with celebrities, and /r/pcmasterrace which could be credited with a renaissance of PC gaming interest; these wouldn't be possible without the level of ownership over the community the users feel they have. (As a case in point, in writing this, I hesitated referencing the /r/pcmasterrace subreddit because of the utterly insensitive name it bears.) Stricter guidelines or a less inclusionary approach to communities elsewhere would not have allowed such a group to exist, let alone flourish.
So why pick on fat people hate? There were only a couple of subreddits in the first place that were built to share dripping vitriol for the big-boned and hefty amongst us. This brings us to the second reason that Reddit was wrong in their decision – containment. Sometimes, it's important to let something very, extraordinarily bad exist in a clearly marked little corner of the world. Allowing such a thing to exist helps to keep it organized, and bring order to what would otherwise be scattered and more difficult to track and control. Yes, I felt bad visiting that subreddit, but I didn't go back. And I know that moderators in a thousand other subreddits enacted guidelines directing users who offered offense on the subject of fat hate to take their mess to the pile with the other messes, rather than pollute the sensible (we'll call them "potty-trained") subreddits.
In a venue that allows for nearly unfettered expression, containment is an essential policy – and the fat hate was contained. Now, any cursory glance at Reddit hours after the announcement displays quite clearly that without a spot for the garbage to go, it has spread through the rest of the hivemind like a plague. You can't destroy hate, but you can compartmentalize and marginalize it. You can let it have a name like the "Westboro Baptist Church" or the "KKK" and let it speak for itself.
Reddit should reconsider its policy on banning fat people hate, or extend the application of that policy to other vile, offensive subreddits that promulgate hate. Otherwise, the distinction is entirely arbitrary and unfair to users.