Reddit is cleaning house, sweeping some of its less savory elements under the carpet as it spiffs the place up.
On Wednesday, Reddit management via blog post shook up the social news and community site by demoting site subsections devoted to discussion of atheism and politics from Reddit's front-page menu bar. In their place are now subsections—known to Reddit regulars as "subreddits"—devoted to animated GIFs, TV shows and books, and high quality images of landscapes and animals (otherwise known as /r/Earthporn).
The effect was to subtly but effectively sanitize a site largely known to the general population for launching viral videos and organizing witch hunts over suspected Boston Marathon bombers. The "default" subreddits that populate the front-page menu bar basically set the tone for casual users when they visit the main site. (Registered users can customize the default subreddits and so are largely unaffected by the change.)
Here's how the official blog post explained the changes:
We know many of you will wonder what happened to /r/politics and /r/atheism and why they were removed from the default set. We could give you a canned corporate answer or a diplomatic answer that is carefully crafted for the situation. But since this is reddit, we’re going to try things a bit differently and give you the real answer: they just weren't up to snuff. Now, don't get us wrong, there still ARE good parts about them. Overall, they just haven't continued to grow and evolve like the other subreddits we've decided to add.
Critics have complained about the front page subreddits for years now, and both /r/atheism and /r/politics are great—OK, to be more precise, terrible—examples of the more controversial, combative, dramaful and troll-infested side of Reddit. This YouTube video, now nearing one million views, pretty accurately portrays the level of discourse on /r/atheism.
“I hope the new front page is more inviting in the sense that it shows off the variety of content reddit has," Reddit general manager Erik Martin told me in a private chat, after declining to elaborate on what /r/atheism and /r/politics not being “up to snuff” meant.
Martin, who identifies as an atheist but says he was raised by his Southern Methodist grandma, went on to tout /r/Earthporn as “part of the the ‘SFW porn network’, a huge network of subreddits” known for high quality images and substantive discussion. Then he talked up /r/television as a “sort of a gateway into all the different specific tv subreddits.” Ah, the mass appeal of TV shows, pretty pictures and GIFS. Who’d be offended by that?
So far, the redditors over at /r/earthporn have, as you'd expected, responded positively to the news and are preparing themselves for an influx of new users. Over on /r/atheism, the mood was more sober as users reflected as to why they were kicked from the main page.
“The community here has ranged from juvenile to patently awful, and hopefully a smaller, sleeker /r/atheism will result from this,” one top commenter wrote. Another, who's been around since the beginning of the subreddit, described its downfall:
Thoughtful self-posts stopped being the majority or even close to the majority of posts. Advice-Animal type memes became the rule rather than the exception. And worst of all? Anger and disdain toward anyone with religious beliefs became common and even celebrated.
Are these individuals describing the danger of becoming too popular, or the damaging nature of self-isolating communities? Maybe both.
Martin said he wasn't sure what effect this relatively minor front page change—the first of many, mentioned the official blog post—will have on Reddit's community and character. If anything, he told me, it will increase the chances “for various smaller politics subreddits to rise,” opening up more room for diversity of opinion on the site—diversity that, right now, is lacking. Here’s to that hope, too.
Lead image via Flickr user Eva Blue, CC 2.0