For those of you who never deep-dived into the darkest pages the internet has to offer, forums and the many online communities might still be a mystery. Among websites where social news aggregation, web content ratings and discussions take place, Reddit is probably the most popular.
Founded in 2005 and sold to Condé Nast 16 months later for allegedly a mere $10 to $20 million, Reddit is a social news platform that allows users to discuss and vote on content that other users have submitted. To help regulate the website and prevent spammers from bombarding readers, Reddit offers users ‘karma points’. When a user’s post or comment is being upvoted by other users in the community, they receive karma points.
Reddit has an impressive network of communities based on people’s interests, which are separated into different pages called ‘subreddits’. Anyone is welcome to open a new subreddit, and you can find them about absolutely everything, from one about Trees Sucking On Things to another one about chairs underwater. A few subreddits dominate the platform however, with the News one accruing a good 20.6 million subscribers, and the recently booming Coronavirus one racking up 2 million subscribers in just 4 months.
According to Alexa Internet, in July 2019, Reddit.com ranked as the fifth most visited website in the US and 13th worldwide.
Because if you spend hours on Reddit, or even the occasional under the radar scroll, no doubt you would have ‘read it’ on pretty much every topic under the sun. Get it?
Launched in 2014 and initially called WhoaVerse, Voat.com is aesthetically and functionally very similar to Reddit. Like Reddit, Voat is a collection of posts—links, pictures and text posts—submitted by its registered users to themed categories called ‘subverses’.
Unlike Reddit, Voat has loose content restrictions and an ad-revenue sharing programme.
The website’s mascot is a goat, which is why the name ‘Voat’ is a mix of the words ‘goat’ and ‘vote’.
Although some Reddit users also have a reputation for being ‘social justice warriors’ (SJW) of racism and sexism, they’re nothing compared to Voat users. It is known that when Reddit users eventually get banned from the platform because they posted something too offensive to be acceptable, they migrate to Voat.
For example, the now-banned subreddit called ‘Fat People Hate’ reconstituted itself on Voat under the same name and has 43,492 subscribers. That’s the perfect example of what separates Reddit from Voat.
Voat users like to claim their right to post anything and not meddle or censor content unless it is illegal. While Reddit’s censorship can also be considered too light or inefficient in some cases, Voat users qualify it as “out of control.”
The major differences between the two platforms highlight the problem the internet is dealing with; how far should freedom of speech go online, and when should censorship be applied? A question that the controversial philosopher Jordan Peterson wanted to fix with his social network Thinkspot.
Just like Facebook and Twitter, Reddit has always proclaimed itself as a place for free speech. It lets individual moderators strictly regulate their own subreddits, but when it comes to banning specific subreddits, its policies are somewhat inconsistent. That being said, most Reddit users tend to shut down anyone making racist, homophobic, and sexist comments.
On the contrary, Voat offers its users complete free reign—similar to a safe space for hatred and alt-right views. On the platform, the fine line between tolerating something and celebrating it seems to have blurred into something that cannot be censored.
Voat is not only made of white supremacists and fat-shaming users, but the fact that it still tolerates some of these opinions is a problem that clearly shows how we are still struggling to regulate the internet.
Chattanooga, Tennessee, also called the Scenic City, is known for a number of things, from its beautiful surroundings to its 10-mile riverwalk down to the Tennessee Aquarium and its (apparently) delicious southern food. Yet, Chattanooga has recently gained attention for something very different; since 2015, it has also infamous for the killings of several people after known Muslim, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, went on a killing spree at two US military facilities. While Chattanooga is one of Tennessee’s fastest-growing cities, according to the FBI, it also ranks number nine among all US cities for highest rate of hate crimes. But the city has a plan; by partnering up with Hatebase, the world’s largest database for hate speech terms, it intends to solve its hate crime problem.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, hate crimes within the state increased 10.5 per cent from 2016 to 2017. In 2017, the agency received 199 statewide reports involving 315 victims, an increase from the 180 reports in 2016. Of those reports, 56.8 per cent included racial, ethnicity and ancestral bias. Tensions between Americans, primarily white Americans and Muslims, have remained high since the 11 September terrorist attack in New York City and Washington D.C. When you couple that with the 2015 shooting and the election of an openly racist and sexist bigot for president in 2016—an increase was bound to happen.
The Muslim population in Chattanooga constitutes a small, tight-knit community. Members of this community have since tried to right a wrong that isn’t theirs to right, while continuing to fall victim to hateful slurs and attacks. Coincidentally, statistics show that counties that held a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 per cent increase in reported hate crimes compared to those that did not. Chattanooga is, of course, one of these cities. So how are cities like Chattanooga able to address such an imminent problem? And what exactly are they hoping to accomplish?
In November 2019, the city launched an initiative that encourages people to anonymously report hate speech through an online forum. Whether it’s something you see, hear or experience directly or indirectly, the Chattanooga government, in partnership with Hatebase, a Toronto-based company that serves as the world’s largest repository for hate speech across 200 countries, created a simple form that allows you to indicate the term used, note whether it was directed towards you or somebody else, define the term and give the language in which the term was spoken.
Because of its high ranking status, Chattanooga is of the first US cities to record hate speech using this method. “We’re hoping to collect this data over the next several years to develop a baseline and better understand hate speech and reduce the likelihood that it graduates from speech to violence in our community,” explained Kerry Hayes, deputy chief of staff to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke in Chattanooga’s local newspaper.
Every night, the city pulls together what has been collected and adds it to a data-set used to monitor hate speech within these marginalised communities. The overall goal is to identify correlations between the racial slurs being used and the actual hate crimes being committed. The partnership between these two entities also hopes to correct the city’s persistent problem of poor and inconsistent reporting to local law enforcement agencies, although the primary goal is to stop massive acts of violence before they happen.
If this works for the city, this could mean that soon enough we will be able to, potentially, use hate speech as a predictor for regional violence. And for those of you who remain suspicious of Hatebase and its method’s accuracy, it has already successfully been used as an early warning system for armed ethnic conflicts in Kenya, Uganda, Burma and Iraq. So what if in 2020—or maybe in the coming decade—we finally solved hate crimes?