Reddit’s co-founder Steve Huffman, who is currently taking over CEO responsibilities in the wake of Ellen Pao’s resignation, has started doing these Fireside AMAs where he makes some sort of edict and all of the reddit users react and ask clarifying questions. Just today he made an interesting statement about the future of “free speech” in general and certain controversial subreddits in particular. The full statement is here but I want to focus on this specific line where he describes how people were banned in the beginning of Reddit versus the later years when the site became popular:

Occasionally, someone would start spewing hate, and I would ban them. The community rarely questioned me. When they did, they accepted my reasoning: “because I don’t want that content on our site.”

As we grew, I became increasingly uncomfortable projecting my worldview on others. More practically, I didn’t have time to pass judgement on everything, so I decided to judge nothing.

This all comes at the heels of some interesting revelations by former, former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong saying that Ellen Pao was actually the person in the board room championing free speech and it was Huffman, fellow co-founder Alexis Ohanian, and others that really wanted to clamp down on the hate speech. So that’s just a big side dish of delicious schadenfreude that’s fun to nibble on

But those quotes bring up some questions that are absolutely crucial to something Britney Summit-Gil posted here a few days ago, namely that Reddit finds itself in a paradox where revolting against the administration forces users to recognize that “Reddit is less like a community and more like a factory,” and that the free speech they rally around is an anathema to their other great love: the free market.

What structures this contradiction, what sets everyone up at cross-purposes, also has a lot to do with Huffman’s reticence to ban people as the site grew. After all, why would Huffman feel “increasingly uncomfortable” making unilateral banning decisions as the site grew, and why was his default position then be “to judge nothing”? Why does it, all of a sudden, become unfair or inappropriate to craft a community or even a product with the kind of decisiveness that comes with “I just don’t like it”?

The answer to all of this comes out of two philosophic ideas: One is the Enlightenment model of reason that we still use to undergird our concepts of legitimacy and rhetorical persuasiveness. That big decisions that effect lots of people should be argued out and have practical and utilitarian reasons and not be based on the whims of an individual. That’s what kings did and that sort of authority is arbitrary even if the results seem desirable.

The second is relatively more recent but still fundamental to the point of vanishing: the idea of the modern society as being governed by bureaucracies that have written rules that are followed by everyone. The rule of law, not of individuals. Bureaucracies are nice when they work because if you look at the written down rules, you have a fairly good idea of how to behave and what to expect from others. It’s a very enticing prospect that is rarely fully experienced.

Huffman doesn’t say as much but this is essentially how we went from fairly common-sense decisions about good governance to free speech fanaticism: not choosing to ban is the absence of arbitrary authority. When you have a site that lets you vote on things it feels like a decision to stop imposing order from the top is making room for democratic order from below.

But this is closer to the kind of majoritarian tyranny that even the architects of the American constitution were worried about. Voting in the 1700s was something that only aristocrats were qualified to do. Leave it to rabble and you would have chaos. That’s why they built a bicameral legislature that originally featured a senate with members appointed by state governments.

It should also be said that one of the oldest laws in the United States is that Congress can’t make laws that specifically target a single individual or organization. That’s why those efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in 2011 were immediately dismissed as unconstitutional. Laws have to apply to everyone equally.

And so what Huffman is presently faced with is a problem of liberal (lowercase L) and modern state governance. How do you write broad laws that classify r/coontown without just saying “I ban r/coontown”?  Unfortunately, this is also the biggest fuel line to the flames of fear that banning even detestable subreddits are a threat to free speech in general. This is, fundamentally, why it even makes sense to argue that banning an outwardly and explicitly racist subreddit can threaten the integrity of other subreddits either in the present or sometime in the future. Laws apply to everyone equally.

So if Reddit wants to get itself out of this paradox, I say dispense with liberalism all-together. At the very least come up with some sort of aspirational progressive vision of what kind of community you want to have and persuade others that they should work to achieve it. This sort of move is the biggest departure that anarchist political theory takes from mainstream liberalism: that communities can agree on the features of a future utopia and govern in the present as if you are already free to live that future utopia. Organizing humans with blanket laws forces you to explain the obvious, namely that hateful people suck and should be persuaded to act otherwise if they wish to remain part of a community that is meaningful to them.

Right now Huffman and the rest of the Reddit administration have come up with some strange and inelegant ways of dealing with the present problem. They make all these dubious distinctions between action and speech; between inciting harm and just abstracting wishing it on people; and lots of blanket “I know it when I see it” sorts of decency rules. Under liberalism redditors would be right to demand very specific descriptions of the “I know it when I see it” kinds of moments.

But if prominent members were to just be upfront in stating what sort of community they would like to see and then acting as if it already existed, discontents would have to persuade admins that they were acting against their own interests and propose a more compelling way to achieve the stated utopia. If they don’t like the utopia at all, then those people can leave for Voat and new users who like that utopia might come to replace them. At the very least, if Reddit were to take this approach, users might actually start answering the question that is at the heart of the matter but is rarely stated in explicit terms: who gets to be a part of the community?

Cross-posted at Cyborgology.

David Banks is a PhD candidate in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Science and Technology Studies Department. You can follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.

For many Reddit users, these are dark times indeed. With the banning of r/fatpeoplehate and other subreddits that did not curtail harassment and vote brigading, followed more recently by the sudden dismissal of Reddit employees including Victoria Taylor, many users are criticizing the increase in top-down administrative decisions made under the leadership of interim CEO Ellen Pao.  Alongside these criticisms are accusations that the “PC” culture of safe spaces and “social justice warriors” has eroded the ideological foundations of Reddit culture–freedom of speech, democracy, and the right to be offensive under any circumstances. Meanwhile, Reddit’s biggest competitor voat.co is having a hard time keeping their servers functioning with the massive influx of traffic.

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The abrupt and unexplained dismissal of Victoria Taylor has become a particularly vivid rallying point for disgruntled users. Many moderators set their subreddits to private or restricted submissions, effectively making Reddit unusable and invisible for a vast majority of visitors. “The Blackout” (aka #TheDarkening) lasted from late Thursday (7/2) until Friday afternoon when most subreddits came back online; it is one of several tactics used so far in the “Reddit Revolt.” At this time a change.org petition calling for Ellen Pao to step down is nearing 200,000 supporters.

One of the more confusing elements of the revolt is the target of redditors’ anger. Who is to blame for this perceived assault on liberty and the free exchange of ideas? For now, two seemingly opposed forces are bearing the brunt of accusation. These are Ellen Pao, under the influence of commercial interests, and social justice activists who criticize Reddit for tolerating and perpetuating hateful discourse. No one is speaking up on the cause of Taylor’s dismissal, which has led to speculation that she was fired for refusing to comply with the increasingly commercial motivations of Reddit admins, that she would not relocate from New York to San Francisco, or that she did not sufficiently manage the controversial Jessie Jackson AMA. Without more information, and in the context of other recent changes to Reddit, users alternate between blaming encroaching corporatism or PC freedom police who are finally ruining the internet.

So, how can these two forces both be responsible for the changes taking place on Reddit, and in other media such as television and gaming? Consider that a cornerstone of the Gamer Gate fiasco has been the assertion that market forces, not SJW activism, should determine the content and character of video games. Opposition to greater inclusivity in games, such as more central female, minority, and queer characters, has often been justified through free market rhetoric; the assertion is that men are the primary consumers of games, and that their demographic preferences do – and should – determine content. Any other force driving game design is perceived as ideologically motivated, propagandizing, and an assault on liberty.

If video game production companies are acquiescing to the demands of activists, they have not been forthcoming about it. Instead, they claim to be adapting to a marketplace in which women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals occupy an ever increasing consumer base. Perhaps the activist/consumer dichotomy is more distracting than useful, given that the voices most critical of capitalism’s ability to turn identity into a commodity are also the ones advocating to see a bit of themselves in their beloved games. Here again, people are caught between wanting to see their values and identities reflected back at them in the media that they love, and coming to terms with what capitalist logics do to those values and identities.

On its face, the simultaneous blame directed at SJWs and commercialization seems at odds. But given the ability of neoliberal late capitalism to commodify identity and the self, and to turn nearly any element of culture into a profitable enterprise, this muddiness is a logical outcome of the contradictions of capitalism that Marx believed would be its downfall. Instead, neoliberalism and identity politics send capitalism into overdrive as the need to colonize ever expanding markets and commodify even the most absurd abstractions turns anti-capitalist ideology into easily packaged products. Rather than disturbing the supposed working-class false consciousness, the contradiction has accounted for it and marketed it back to the very people it exploits. It’s only a matter of time before Walmart starts selling a t-shirt that reads “Social Justice Warrior!” in yellow glitter.

Also central to the Reddit Revolt are discussions of labor and exploitation. Many on Reddit have remarked on the betrayal of moderators by the admins. Mods develop and manage Reddit content on their own time and for no compensation, a service admins rely on for the site to function and be profitable. In exchange, mods have historically been given relative freedom within the subreddits they moderate. Now that this freedom is being restricted or, as in the case with Victoria Taylor, decisions are made at the admin level without consulting or even informing mods, mods and users are taking the opportunity to air more general grievances, like the lack of investment in the site’s infrastructure.

Here is the centerpiece of the Reddit Revolt paradox: what is a redditor relative to the admins, or to the site itself? Redditors perceive themselves as members of a community, or perhaps as customers of the site. In many instances they even see themselves as workers generating content for the site to the benefit of the admins. But redditors are not customers, nor are they simply workers — they are the product.

To complicate this further, the Reddit Revolt requires all of us to grapple with digital and affective labor, and its tendency to blur the categories of workers, products, and consumers. Ellen Pao’s job is not to make Reddit a happy community, it is to sell the attention of redditors to advertisers. And even as users begin to understand that Reddit is less like a community and more like a factory, they seem less clear on their position within this factory. Redditors are not so much customers engaged in a boycott or even laborers on strike, they are products. As products, the only effective protest movement redditors could possibly engage in would be to remove themselves from the market. Hence, the blackout.

But the fact is, Reddit admins can shoulder the brunt of a couple of blackout days. Given how quickly the front page returned to normal it seems unlikely that any sustained movement will take hold. And while they may make promises to users about changes to come, Reddit admins will continue to do what all successful corporate entities require — turn a profit, often at the expense of those who use, make, or even are the product.

It’s to be expected that redditors feel betrayed by the powers that be for undermining the perceived ethos of Reddit as a community in which ideas — any ideas — can be freely exchanged. But there is perhaps a deeper betrayal that has not been articulated in the dominant narrative of the Reddit Revolt. That is the betrayal of western rationalism itself, and the notion that free markets and free speech are two articulations of a deeper, natural order that ultimately works in favor of the masses. The rhetorical relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of markets performs key ideological work for the perpetuation of an American-flavored narrative that capitalism is the great equalizer. While events like the Citizens United Supreme Court case occasionally highlight the absurdity of this argument, it is pervasive and often unseen. That cornerstone of western rationalism that so many redditors love is playing out in ways that they really really do not love. And the rupture will require more than dank memes and mental gymnastics to reconcile.

Cross-posted at Cyborgology.

Britney Summit-Gil is a graduate student in Communication and Media at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She tweets occasionally at @beersandbooks.

A new survey of 557 female scientists found widespread experiences of discrimination and alienation in the workforce that varied in interesting ways by race.7

While all types of women reported experiencing these forms of discrimination in large numbers — and 100% of a sub-sample of 60 interviewed for the study reported at least one — the race differences are interesting:

  • Black women were especially likely to need to prove and re-prove competence.
  • Asian and white women, especially, received pressure to withdraw from the workplace after having children.
  • Asian women were most likely to be pushed to perform a stereotypically feminine role in the office, followed by white and then Latina women. Black women rarely reported this.
  • Latina and white women were most likely to feel supported by other women in the workforce; Black women the least.
  • And almost half of Black and Latina women had been mistaken for janitors or administrative assistants, compared to a third of white women and a quarter of Asian women.

The study, by law professor Joan Williams and two colleagues, can be found here.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

I was on jury duty this week, and the greatest challenge for me was the “David Brooks temptation” to use the experience to expound on the differences in generations and the great changes in culture and character that technology and history have brought.

I did my first tour of duty in the 1970s. Back then you were called for two weeks. Even if you served on a jury, after that trial ended, you went back to the main jury room. If you were lucky, you might be released after a week and a half. Now it’s two days.

What most struck me most this time was the atmosphere in the main room. Now, nobody talks. You’re in a large room with maybe two hundred people, and it’s quieter than a library. Some are reading newspapers or books, but most are on their latops, tablets, and phones. In the 1970s, it wasn’t just that there was no wi-fi, there was no air conditioning. Remember “12 Angry Men”? We’re in the same building. Then, you tried to find others to talk to. Now you try to find a seat near an electric outlet to connect your charger.

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I started to feel nostalgic for the old system. People nowadays – all in their own narrow, solipsistic worlds, nearly incapable of ordinary face-to-face sociability. And so on.

But the explanation was much simpler. It was the two-day hitch. In the old system, social ties didn’t grow from strangers seeking out others in the main jury room. It happened when you went to a courtroom for voir dire. You were called down in groups of forty. The judge sketched out the case, and the lawyers interviewed the prospective jurors. From their questions, you learned more about the case, and you learned about your fellow jurors – neighborhood, occupation, family, education, hobbies. You heard what crimes they’d been a victim of.  When judge called a break for bathroom or lunch or some legal matter, you could find the people you had something in common with. And you could talk with anyone about the case, trying to guess what the trial would bring. If you weren’t selected for the jury, you went back to the main jury room, and you continued the conversations there. You formed a social circle that others could join.

This time, on my first day, there were only two calls for voir dire, the clerk as bingo-master spinning the drum with the name cards and calling out the names one by one. My second day, there were no calls. And that was it. I went home having had no conversations at all with any of my fellow jurors. (A woman seated behind me did say, “Can you watch my laptop for a second?” when she went to the bathroom, but I don’t count that as a conversation.)

I would love to have written 800 words here on how New York character had changed since the 1970s.  No more schmoozing. Instead we have iPads and iPhones and MacBooks destroying New York jury room culture – Apple taking over the Apple. People unable or afraid to talk to one another because of some subtle shift in our morals and manners. Maybe I’d even go for the full Brooks and add a few paragraphs telling you what’s really important in life.

But it was really a change in the structure. New York expanded the jury pool by eliminating most exemptions. Doctors, lawyers, politicians, judges – they all have to show up. As a result, jury service is two days instead of two weeks, and if you actually are called to a trial, once you are rejected for the jury or after the trial is over, you go home.

The old system was sort of like the pre-all-volunteer army. You get called up, and you’re thrown together with many kinds of people you’d never otherwise meet. It takes a chunk of time out of your life, but you wind up with some good stories to tell. Maybe we’ve lost something. But if we have lost valuable experiences, it’s because of a change in the rules, in the structure of how the institution is run, not a because of a change in our culture and character.

Cross-posted  at Montclair Socioblog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

There was a great article in The Nation last week about social media and ad hoc credit scoring. Can Facebook assign you a score you don’t know about but that determines your life chances?

Traditional credit scores like your FICO or your Beacon score can determine your life chances. By life chances, we generally mean how much mobility you will have. Here, we mean a number created by third party companies often determines you can buy a house/car, how much house/car you can buy, how expensive buying a house/car will be for you. It can mean your parents not qualifying to co-sign a student loan for you to pay for college. These are modern iterations of life chances and credit scores are part of it.

It does not seem like Facebook is issuing a score, or a number, of your creditworthiness per se. Instead they are limiting which financial vehicles and services are offered to you in ads based on assessments of your creditworthiness.

One of the authors of The Nation piece (disclosure: a friend), Astra Taylor, points out how her Facebook ads changed when she started using Facebook to communicate with student protestors from for-profit colleges. I saw the same shift when I did a study of non-traditional students on Facebook.

You get ads like this one from DeVry:

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Although, I suspect my ads were always a little different based on my peer and family relations. Those relations are majority black. In the U.S. context that means it is likely that my social network has a lower wealth and/or status position as read through the cumulative historical impact of race on things like where we work, what jobs we have, what schools we go to, etc. But even with that, after doing my study, I got every for-profit college and “fix your student loan debt” financing scheme ad known to man.

Whether or not I know these ads are scams is entirely up to my individual cultural capital. Basically, do I know better? And if I do know better, how do I come to know it?

I happen to know better because I have an advanced education, peers with advanced educations and I read broadly. All of those are also a function of wealth and status. I won’t draw out the causal diagram I’ve got brewing in my mind but basically it would say something like, “you need wealth and status to get advantageous services offered you on the social media that overlays our social world and you need proximity wealth and status to know when those services are advantageous or not”.

It is in interesting twist on how credit scoring shapes life chances. And it runs right through social media and how a “personalized” platform can never be democratizing when the platform operates in a society defined by inequalities.

I would think of three articles/papers in conversation if I were to teach this (hint, I probably will). Healy and Fourcade on how credit scoring in a financialized social system shapes life chances is a start:

providers have learned to tailor their products in specific ways in an effort to maximize rents, transforming the sources and forms of inequality in the process.

And then Astra Taylor and Jathan Sadowski’s piece in The Nation as a nice accessible complement to that scholarly article:

Making things even more muddled, the boundary between traditional credit scoring and marketing has blurred. The big credit bureaus have long had sidelines selling marketing lists, but now various companies, including credit bureaus, create and sell “consumer evaluation,” “buying power,” and “marketing” scores, which are ingeniously devised to evade the FCRA (a 2011 presentation by FICO and Equifax’s IXI Services was titled “Enhancing Your Marketing Effectiveness and Decisions With Non-Regulated Data”). The algorithms behind these scores are designed to predict spending and whether prospective customers will be moneymakers or money-losers. Proponents claim that the scores simply facilitate advertising, and that they’re not used to approve individuals for credit offers or any other action that would trigger the FCRA. This leaves those of us who are scored with no rights or recourse.

And then there was Quinn Norton this week on The Message talking about her experiences as one of those marketers Taylor and Sadowski allude to. Norton’s piece summarizes nicely how difficult it is to opt-out of being tracked, measured and sold for profit when we use the Internet:

I could build a dossier on you. You would have a unique identifier, linked to demographically interesting facts about you that I could pull up individually or en masse. Even when you changed your ID or your name, I would still have you, based on traces and behaviors that remained the same — the same computer, the same face, the same writing style, something would give it away and I could relink you. Anonymous data is shockingly easy to de-anonymize. I would still be building a map of you. Correlating with other databases, credit card information (which has been on sale for decades, by the way), public records, voter information, a thousand little databases you never knew you were in, I could create a picture of your life so complete I would know you better than your family does, or perhaps even than you know yourself.

It is the iron cage in binary code. Not only is our social life rationalized in ways even Weber could not have imagined but it is also coded into systems in ways difficult to resist, legislate or exert political power.

Gaye Tuchman and I talk about this full rationalization in a recent paper on rationalized higher education. At our level of analysis, we can see how measurement regimes not only work at the individual level but reshape entire institutions. Of recent changes to higher education (most notably Wisconsin removing tenure from state statute causing alarm about the role of faculty in public higher education) we argue that:

In short, the for-profit college’s organizational innovation lies not in its growth but in its fully rationalized educational structure, the likes of which being touted in some form as efficiency solutions to traditional colleges who have only adopted these rationalized processes piecemeal.

And just like that we were back to the for-profit colleges that prompted Taylor and Sadowski’s article in The Nation.

Efficiencies. Ads. Credit scores. Life chances. States. Institutions. People. Inequality.

And that is how I read. All of these pieces are woven together and its a kind of (sad) fun when we can see how. Contemporary inequalities run through rationalized systems that are being perfected on social media (because its how we social), given form through institutions, and made invisible in the little bites of data we use for critical minutiae that the Internet has made it difficult to do without.

Tressie McMillan Cottom is an assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University.  Her doctoral research is a comparative study of the expansion of for-profit colleges.  You can follow her on twitter and at her blog, where this post originally appeared.

Every year the National Priorities Project helps Americans understand how the money they paid in federal taxes was spent. Here’s the data for 2014:

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Since the 1940s, individual Americans have paid 40-50% of the federal government’s bills through taxes on income and investment. Another chunk (about 1/3rd today) is paid in the form of payroll taxes for things like social security and medicare. This year, corporate taxes made up only about 11% of the federal government’s revenue; this is way down from a historic high of almost 40% in 1943.

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Visit the National Priorities Project here and find out where state tax dollars went, how each state benefits from federal tax dollars, and who gets the biggest tax breaks. Or fiddle around with how you would organize American priorities.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

…genetics!

From College Humor.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

NPR put together a nice graphic showing the most common job in every state every two years from 1978 to 2014. It’s a fascinating ride from secretaries, farmers, and machine operators to truck drivers, truck drivers, and truck drivers. Click to enlarge.

1978:18

2014:17


Quoctrung Bui explains some of the trends:

  • Truck drivers came to “dominate the map” partly because the job can’t be outsources or automated (yet).
  • Much of the work of secretaries was replaced by computers.
  • Manufacturing jobs have been sent overseas (but you knew that).
  • And advances in farming technology means that we can grow more and more food with fewer and fewer people.

She also points out — with a “heh” — that the most common job in Washington D.C. is lawyer. But she didn’t mention that in 1996 it was janitors. There’s gotta be a politician joke in there, too.
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Here are some of the changes I found interesting, with mostly uninformed commentary. The three boxes represent 1978, 1996, and 2014.

Methinks reality television is not telling me the truth about Alaska.

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Well, we know what Nevada‘s for. Except I guess people used to go there to do stuff and now they just go there to buy stuff.333

South Dakota and North Dakota, holding strong.444New York, the only state on the list that’s top job is nursing. Take that, Florida!

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You go, Delaware.222

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.