Reddit, Gawker, and Editorial Power

I don’t read sites like Gawker and Reddit. Occasionally, I’ll end up there because they’re both good at being a destination site from social media and they’re very clever with titles and media. As far as I know, Gawker is editorially-controlled whereas Reddit is (obviously) a moderated platform where users generate the content. And, we all know, the past few months of intense global scrutiny have not been kind to either property.

I haven’t followed the details, so from the outside re: Reddit, to me it seems the case that overall the world wants real identities to rule, or at least pseudonyms that are policed. While I do admire that forums like Reddit allow those who cannot be public to participate, and that ideas are judged on the merit without worrying about “who” offered them, and that free speech should be protected, there are rules against libel, bullying, harassment, and sharing sensitive information in the offline world that make online forums dangerous. This time around, time caught up with Reddit, and we all got to see what their crowd and community could turn into. Now, time will tell if the forum can and will remain relevant.

With Gawker, I couldn’t believe someone published that shaming piece even after it went through an editorial process. The subject in question is not a public figure, though I understand siblings of public figures are considered “fair game” by the scum of the media. Based on what was reported in this piece, there was not even corroborated evidence, and now someone’s entire life is exposed for all of us to gawk at.

In each case — Reddit and Gawker — just one a-hole ruins the whole show for everyone. And, if you have a-holes in your community or on your staff, it is your fault, and those sites should have to pay the consequences. As it stands, there is no punishment or recourse. With more Internet-connected devices capturing data and storing it in the cloud, I guess we can work to smear Jennifer Aniston’s brother or someone like that — I don’t know if she has a brother, but you get the idea. These sites will do anything to stay alive, earn ad dollars, drive clicks, and get attention. Information does want to be free, but posting the private business of someone else can and does have really gnarly consequences. Those who live in glass houses should not cast stones, and now we know Gawker and Reddit also live in glass houses.

This topic has been on my mind because for over three years, I was the longest-standing, most frequent contributor to TechCrunch. I wrote over 100 posts and aside from the first 3-4, I had full keys to the TechCrunch WP dashboard, and would write my posts and publish them myself. No editorial oversight. During that time, while working in industry and taking on consulting roles with investment firms, I was given access to all sorts of information that I could’ve blasted off without anyone telling me to “stop.” Sure, a post could’ve been taken down, and I’d have ruined my reputation — and therein lies the point. There was a strong incentive to behave. On Reddit, without identity, where’s the incentive to think about what one’s posting? On Gawker, if you hire a staff of “journalists” who are essentially modern paparazzi, can a drive-by hit-job like that post just be remedied by firing the offender?

I don’t know what the right solution is, and maybe there aren’t any. What I do know is that when crimes are committed offline, those scars and rap sheets often move with those people. I wonder if the same thing will happen online.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2018 Semil Shah.

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