By: Madeline Rose
The social news website; the community of users; the forum for anything and everything; Reddit holds a unique corner of the Internet. A corner that is publicly trying to ensure that it stays its own, and that the Internet stays open and ultimately free. Reddit co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, organized the recent 1,000 mile trip across the United States from Denver to the Vice Presidential Debate, in Danville, Kentucky. The Internet 2012 Bus Tour was by no means an express trip. The tour leaders toted with them an Internet Declaration of Freedom of their own design, calling for a defense of online privacy and a censor free Web. Stopping to host discussion panels with supporters and talk to fellow Internet users fearful for the continued safety of their online business and general content, the tour was devised to not just consort with fellow thinkers, but to stir Internet activism in everyone.
Ohanian hopes to perpetuate talk on Internet freedom specifically in politics. Reddit opened the doors when the site hosted a Q and A with President Obama last August called, Ask Me Anything, where users did just that. When asked about Internet freedom, Obama replied, “We will fight hard to make sure that the Internet remains the open forum for everybody – from those who are expressing an idea to those to want to start a business. And although there will be occasional disagreements on the details of various legislative proposals, I won’t stray from that principle.” The Internet Tour campaigned to make Internet freedom an issue, and most importantly, make the presidential candidates understand that it will be an issue that people will be voting on. Ohanian argues that there isn’t enough content on Internet concerns as there should be on either party’s platform, and in bringing attention to the issue, he can prompt that vitally needed discussion between candidates.
Reddit has ventured more than once into the political arena. When the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was proposed to Congress in October 2011, not long after the introduction of the Protect IP Act (PIPA), Reddit was a vocal adversary. Reddit users came together to boycott the domain hosting company, GoDaddy, a supporter of SOPA. Joining forces with Reddit users, Wikipedia withdrew domain names from GoDaddy, and due to the considerable number of domain transfers away from the company, GoDaddy announced they were severing ties with SOPA just one day after the boycott. The protest didn’t end there. On January 18, 2012, Reddit led a pack of 7,000 websites, including Wikipedia and Google, to stage a blackout. The blackout was supposed to represent a foreshadowing of what would come if the bills passed. Inactive for 12 hours, Reddit’s only video on the front page during that time was a live stream of the congressional hearing on SOPA. Alongside the live stream was a statement about how the legislation would destroy user generated content sites and infringe on free speech. The collective forces of major sites Reddit, Wikipedia, and Google effectively killed the bills.
Enduring some recent grief for imposing bans on journalistic speech, that by gawker.com which ousted the identity of renowned user, Violentacrez (who posted the most odious content imaginable), Reddit CEO, Yishan Wong, stands behind privacy and speech protection online. Reddit does not condone illegal activity, and acted as fast as possible to remove users suspected of exchanging child pornography in 2011. However, legal speech, however appalling and quasi legal it may be, has a right to be expressed, and Reddit will continue to host it. Reddit takes serious offense to those who try to censor speakers like gawker.com did in violating a user’s privacy, and like Congress contemplated doing in SOPA and PIPA.