Modern anarchism has found a place beyond the huddled coffee shops of the Spanish Civil War: The r/Anarchism subreddit. With over 72,000 readers and cousin pages like GreenAnarchism, it has become a meeting place for contemporary anarchists to exchange thoughts, rally together from all parts of the world and frolic into sunflower fields with wild abandon. However, on Reddit, anarchists have to follow the rules just like everyone else.
The inherent contradiction between Reddit's opaque policing methods and the core values of anarchism became obvious last week. when a group of mods were suspended for approving content noted for inciting violence, according to admins. One mod was removed for approving a pdf file with a recipe for molotov cocktail tucked inside a 600 page book. Another mod was suspended after approving comments with the common anarchist phrase, "bash the fash." Comments that encourage or incite violence fall under the 'unwelcomed content' category outlined in the Reddit content policy. However, there are several ways to interpret the policy. Mods may consider "bash the fash" fair game, while admins may find it way out of line.
Instead of fighting the system, a mod named Faolinbean directly addressed the domino chain of mod suspensions and proposed some clarity on the community rules. A manifesto, borrowed from /r/militant, took steps to clear nebulous language and make the case for what is acceptable content. In an odd twist, identified anarchists themselves become small-scale legislators that their beliefs inherently reject.
In response, fellow /r/Anarchism users found the guidelines reasonably sketched out. But for a few, these proposed rules just fanned the flames and prompted more comments that were deleted by admins.
The problem is that different people interpret Reddit's content policy in different ways. Opinions towards admins change depending on who you talk to. Game-developer Brianna Wu, for example, experienced a Reddit that "doesn't care at all." One that failed to intervene, brushing off her reports of violent threats.
On the flipside, other users experience the opposite. One common criticism from /r/Anarchism is that banned content is cherry picked or carelessly chosen by admins. In the context of other subreddits like /r/Riotsarefun or /r/PhysicalRemoval, which blatantly condone and enable violence outside the platform, admins turn a blind eye, or at least hold them to a different standard.
The bottom line is that social media platforms aren't protected by the US constitution and have complete authority to write their own rules. And the mod team of r/Anarchism understands this. In a conversation with Motherboard, one mod emphasized the description on the forum's front page, stating that the Anarchism subreddit is just that: a subreddit. "An internet forum is not an [anarchist] society." And the mods are to keep this in mind when approving comments.
Whether or not it's fair, the admins hold all the power. As long as the conversation is on Reddit, you can either play to the rules, or receive the red gavel of suspension.