At the moment, the 40 or so most popular posts on Reddit.com, the "front page of the internet," are an amalgamation of swastikas, fat shaming, and hate targeted at Reddit CEO Ellen Pao.
The posts are a result of Reddit banning five subreddits Wednesday that were solely dedicated to harassing marginalized groups, such as the obese, LGBT people, and black people. The largest of these was r/fatpeoplehate, which had roughly 150,000 subscribers.
Predictably, the move has resulted in cries of "censorship," and a backlash from some of the sites users, who have created dozens of new subreddits, such as "PaoMustResign," "InflateGate," "FuckYouEllenPao," "LargeHealthConcerns," "EllenPaoandFatHate," "PleaseLoseWeight," "EllenPaoIsaBigCunt," and others to circumvent Reddit's admins.
Some of the new subreddits, such as "fatpeoplehate2," have already been banned by the site, but each time one is banned, another is created.
Here's what the top posts on the site are right now:
Interestingly, most users of Reddit won't see these posts, they can only be seen if you go to r/all, which organizes Reddit posts by the number of upvotes they have, regardless of which subreddit they are posted in.
For casual users, Reddit's "front page" is made up of 50 "default" subreddits, such as news, space, science, aww, pics, and other ones that have been primarily untouched by the ongoing Reddit drama. More serious users of Reddit customize their own homepages, and so can choose to ignore what's going on right now.
At the moment, the goal appears to be to game Google's search engine optimization to make the search term "Ellen Pao" become affiliated with Nazi paraphernalia, which is a somewhat flawed understanding of SEO. Here's the "ellenpaoisabigcunt" subreddit:
Others have attempted to find out where the moderation "line" is—a new subreddit called "obesityhealthconcern" has posted autopsy photos of obese people and medical documentaries about obesity in an attempt to make a point about "censorship." On some of the site's bigger subreddits, obesity-related (but ostensibly on-topic) posts have risen to the top—a photo of a heart removed from an obese person's body made it to the top of r/pics, and a story about obesity's role in diabetes has hit the top of r/worldnews.
Pao has regularly been the target of casual misogyny and attack posts on the site because she and her fellow administrators have repeatedly said they would take stricter moderation steps including banning harassing posts, subreddits, and accounts. Pao was the target of a hate campaign after she lost a gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. Pao is appealing that case.
To be clear, just because these subreddits and posts are currently the most popular on Reddit does not mean that the Reddit community is full of people who hate fat people or people who hate Ellen Pao.
What's is happening is an echo chamber of a vocal minority of a few thousand Redditors causing a fuss. In the short term, it has wreaked at least some havoc on the site, but, long term, it's the right move, according to Whitney Phillips, a professor at Humboldt State University who studies trolls. Phillips told me that in trying to clean up some of Reddit's more nasty corners, it's fostering a place that is actually more open for those who may be afraid to participate in the community otherwise.
"Some people are awful, but a lot of people are not. Most people are not, actually," Phillips told me. "It's just that the most awful people are usually the loudest, because they are the most desperate to have their existence validated. They are also the hardest to get to shut up, because they are so sensitive."
Reddit, for its part, says the bans are here to stay.
"The goal is to make Reddit a place for authentic conversations and idea-sharing," a Reddit spokesperson told me. "Reddit hopes that users will welcome the changes to make the platform a more welcoming place for all."