On Monday, we discussed the perception of search engines and algorithms as neutral – thus the suggestions of “are Jews evil?” and the like were not a reflection of Google or its values, but instead an indication of how the majority of people use the internet. Of course, we problematized this by discussing the use of click-farmers or search engine optimization and the vested interest of alt-right groups in having racist websites as the first results on Google’s page. By referring to its use of algorithms, Google (and Facebook) absolved itself of any ethical responsibility to alter the algorithms or the search results.
Unlike Google, Reddit has been actively taking steps to reduce the visbility of neo-nazi groups. The social networking site, with a variety of communities called “sub-reddits,” recently shut down two of its “subs”: altright and alternativeright. Interestingly, these threads were permitted until there were threats of “doxxing” (a process which involves finding and publicly sharing an individual’s personal information or documents) an activist who punched white supremacist Richard Spencer at a protest. Doxxing goes against Reddit’s terms of service.
It is also worth noting that Reddit will ban specific subreddits, this does not stop the members of those groups from posting on other threads nor ban them from use of the website at all. Although Reddit made a statement regarding its mission to be a welcoming and safe site, it was previously named one of the most racist websites online.
While there are moderators for each subreddit, they work on a volunteer basis and different rules exist for each sub. For example, r/LateStageCapitalism is a thread for socialist discussion and the moderators enforce their very strict rules about using racial slurs (and otherwise hateful speech). This exists in stark contrast with another thread under r/WhiteRights where one of its few rules is “No attacks on other White nationalities”. Based on Reddit’s banning of specific threads, there is clearly some notion of ethical responsibility. However, is it enough?
Is it possible to alter an existing network to be devoid of racism, or does it require, as Castells suggests, the development of an alternative network? Should Google be following in Reddit’s footsteps and changing its interface? Or are these changes to public websites suppression of free speech? What do you guys think?