Reddit’s collective frontal lobe seemed to malfunction on Thursday, as a frenzy of outrage and condemnation swirled around a bombshell post alleging that trolls on Reddit had driven a man to suicide.
The redditor was Black_Visions, who, in a post last March titled, “A lot of trolls out tonight …” threatened to kill himself, and was subsequently harassed in the thread. He then disappeared from Reddit, never to post again. He’d posted to r/MensRights, and the trolls harassing him had allegedly come from that subreddit’s frequent ideological enemy r/ShitRedditSays.
On Thursday, someone claiming to be Black_Vision’s sister had an update: He’d killed himself, and now her family was preparing a legal battle against the redditors who’d harassed him.
“Our family has decided to take legal action” against “those who urged him to take his own life,” she wrote. “Next week, our lawyer will be filing a wrongful death suit in Washington State against nine individuals.”
Redditors upvoted those allegations to the top of r/subredditdrama, r/mensrights, r/antisrs and, in the hoax’s final coup, the massive r/askreddit. Multiple websites copied the allegations as well, without using a bit of critical thinking in their analyses. Meanwhile, the sister, who said her real name was “Sandy,” never provided a hint of evidence. Sure, Redditors dug up a newspaper story and police report that seemed to confirm some details of her story: A man in Washington state had leapt to his death from the 8th floor of a hotel. But that was hardly proof: It’s not exactly hard to find reports of suicide online, any of which an enterprising hoaxster could use to pilfer details.
Seattle police later confirmed the story was likely made-up. The woman said her brother’s name was Jerry and that he had a wife and a daughter. But the man who died in Washington--the man whose death the troll decided to use to prove some kind of sick point--wasn’t named Jerry and didn’t have a family. Case closed.
The largest push to reveal the hoax came from redditors themselves, but their skeptical contributions marched quite slowly to the top of comment threads. How was the scam so successful in the first place? Was it mostly because members from r/ShitRedditSays, Reddit’s favorite bogeyman, seemed to bear responsibility for a man’s death? Or was it because the allegations themselves seemed to prove how comments on Reddit actually matter—that they bear serious and even deadly real-world consequences?
Can Reddit communities moderate themselves using the site’s voting system? “No,” the moderators of the site’s rage comics section declared emphatically on Sunday, as they ended what was supposed to a month-long experiment in user moderation three weeks early. They’d launched the experiment in response to constant complaints from users who bristled at any form of rule enforcement—but it didn’t take long for others to start complaining even more vociferously about the lack of moderation.
“Since the people who thought we need to have moderation outnumber those who don't (and that's our personal experience as well), we've decided to reinstate the rules,” top mod Poromenos wrote.
Did they give up too early?
“/r/fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu should have gone all out with no-mod-month,” r/dailydot commenter LordCurlyFry wrote. “They backed out just when the community was realizing that they'd be borked without mods. Now nobody other than the mods themselves will learn a lesson in all this.”