Reddit's pretzel-knot of moderation and anti-self promotion is getting in the way of its IPO dreams.
Hi there! If you’re new to the newsletter, today is “Moribund Monday.” Around here on mondays we like to be blackpilled (fatalistic). Moribund is fancy way of saying “deathbound.”
My freshman year of college I had a particularly rowdy period following a bad breakup. One night I was kicked out of a party, literally. As in: pushed out the front door by feet and legs. I stumbled home feeling dirty; animalistic.
I feel sneered and kicked at in much the same way when trying to share content on Reddit, which is rabidly anti self-promotion. Last week I was permanently banned from r/movies for posting my review of Under the Silver Lake, which was a movie I really enjoyed and was excited to discuss.
It feels… not good to create and earnestly attempt to share only to be shown the door. However, I’m sure there’s a million others that have been banned in similar ways for trying to post well meaning reviews. Anti-self-promo policies are part of a necessary “gas and breaks” ecosystem by which online communities fight against a tide of self promotion to maintain their unique vision and atmosphere. These are communities, not bulletin boards, not advertising services. The mere existence of a group of netizens does not entitle me to their attention.
The problem is that I, and the majority of other content creators, aren’t just hit-and-run dropping our content on subreddits and leaving. It’s 2022, and the world knows that engagement is the name of the game. Every time I see an upstart content creator post on the subreddits where they’re welcome, they respond thoughtfully to almost every comment that isn’t vitriolic. They’re touched someone is taking the time not just to consume, but to comment on their work.
Part of the Club
“I wouldn’t want to be part of any club that would have me as a member.”
- Groucho “the fun one” Marx
I’ve talked about “guarded” institutions protected by meritocratic filters in the past, and how they stand in comparison to “anonymous” communities of which anyone can claim membership. These anonymous communities, however, still have guardians; gatekeepers. The mods of r/movies still link to a now-defunct reddit rule stating that you should have a maximum 10% rate of self-promo posts to other posts (posts, not comments). This has always been idiotic since it doesn’t encourage conversation, just mandates that spammers need to spam 9 times more for every one link they really want to push. Not to mention that the rule was never enforced for established community members, who Steve Huffman (Reddit CEO) himself admitted that this rule was “dumb” 6 years ago, but not much seems to have been done to bring communities still enforcing the old rules back into the fold. It’s doubtful that any correction will ever be made, since Reddit likes to give their moderators a large amount of latitude in how they run their communities.
What’s frustrating about the r/movies rules in particular, is their specificity surrounding names, which they like to explain with a South Park meme:
Lazy rules like this one do little to stop determined bad actors who corrupt the site’s voting system for personal gain. In addition to sock puppet farmers are more insidious content cabals that serve to anonymize traffic and manipulate votes by posting one another’s content. It’s like TOR in that there’s no consistent IP or account signature to track where posts are coming from.
The self-promo rules seem organized in such a way as to quash upstarts. That is only because upstarts are indistinguishable from opportunists, and opportunists ruin ecosystems. However, opportunists are not easily deterred. So in the end harsh self-promo rules end up as a win for those circumventing the system and a loss for those unwilling to do the same. Upstart content creators (and Reddit) are the real losers, as they’re aggressively shooed away from the platform into the open arms of communities like substack and medium that have figured out how to monetize small creators in a mutually beneficial way.
IPO or IP-NO?
As a company looking to IPO, Reddit needs to sort the situation quickly. A user in r/wallstreetbets stated the problems succinctly:
1) Karma requirement for new users. Although this mechanic was meant to deter bots, it is a major hinderance in Reddit's growth as their new user experience is complete garbage. You are not allowed to post in the majority of popular subreddits without having a 1 week old account and 100/200 Karma. Most new users are not going to farm karma in pics or Askreddit to post in their favorite subreddits. Imagine if Youtube had a requirement that you had to watch 100 hours of youtube rewinds and other garbage videos before you could watch your favorite youtuber.
2) Moderators. Politics and "free speech" aside, getting banned from a subreddit because a 400 pound moderator doesn't like your completely normal opinions that the majority of normal people have is going to decline the Reddit userbase. If you're a new user and you post that "communism isn't the greatest government type of all time", and get perma banned from it, you're just going to uninstall the app.
3) Administration lag on problematic subreddits. Reddit admins are astronomically slow to ban subreddits that are not only problematic, but straight up illegal. You turn on your favorite stock TV show, and the headline of today is "Reddit stock down -40% due to a massive scandal of a creepshot subreddit where teachers took lewd pictures of underage students." Reddit still has a lot of subreddits like that even today, and it's only a matter of time before those get noticed too.
Another very real issue mentioned further down in the thread is that about 22% of Reddit’s traffic can’t be monetized because it’s porn. Because of the way that reddit intermingles content in your feed, it means that nsfw content actively destroys ad revenue on the site.
To combine the NSFW and self-promotion issues, much of the site’s adult content is now direct self promotion for OnlyFans. Reddit is one of OnlyFans’ creators most reliable traffic sources. Not only has Reddit become the biggest OnlyFans billboard on the internet, it’s paying for the privilege; as that NSFW content cannot be monetized.
Not only has Reddit become the biggest OnlyFans billboard on the internet, it’s paying for the privilege; as that NSFW content cannot be monetized.
The moderator freedom of influence that many users celebrate for creating unique spaces on the site serves also to create a minefield of rules pages and posts. On r/movies alone I found 6 separate links, some with contradictory information, in addition to the no longer maintained reddit rules wiki that they call back to (now augmented by reddithelp). Disorganization and inconsistent policy serves to make serious content creation on the platform less attractive to revenue-driving content marketers who form symbiotic relationships with their platforms by building SEO and bringing users from other communities.
In terms of new user acquisition heavy, convoluted rules reading makes for a terrible experience. As mentioned in the linked reddit post at the top of this section, new users have to find ways to generate karma before being able to interact with the site, and often misstep into overly-harsh (or permanent) bans from gung-ho moderators. All of this serves to discourage joining for all but the truly committed, keeping reddit exclusive and same-y.
Reddit’s rules on self promotion are convoluted and inconsistent. They represent a deeper problem in the moderation and content policies of the site that place massive roadblocks in the way of monetization and an eventual IPO.
All of this is great news if you are a Reddit user: things probably aren’t going the way of pure greed for a while yet. Executives, employees, and shareholders, on the other hand, are likely singing a different tune.
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