In the wake of Reddit banning five user-created communities that administrators considered unrepentant conduits of hate and harassment, many users are angry at what they perceive to be widespread censorship.
For years, Reddit operated according to its founders’ libertarian ethos and was essentially a lawless wasteland. With the exception of child pornography, no type of content was banned. But now that interim CEO Ellen Pao is turning things around, there has been a substantial backlash.
Some of that backlash appears to have spilled over onto Google Maps. If you search for “Reddit headquarters” on Google Maps, you’ll get the Topeka, Kansas, home base of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.
It’s unclear what led to this search result, which is effectively the Maps equivalent of a Google bomb. These sorts of unexpected and politically charged results have occurred in the past, like when searches for “n****r house” turned up results for the White House.
“Our ranking systems are designed to return results that match a person’s query,” Google VP of Engineering & Product Management Jen Fitzpatrick said in a recent blog post about the White House search result.
Referring to that result, she continued, “Certain offensive search terms were triggering unexpected maps results, typically because people had used the offensive term in online discussions of the place.”
A Google spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether the Reddit-Westboro result stemmed from intentional manipulation on the part of Google users, or if the linkage happened simply due to redditors discussing the church, which has long been a subject of controversy for holding anti-gay protests at public events like the funerals of American soldiers.
There is some irony in a search for “Reddit headquarters” turning up the Westboro Baptist Church. Members of the church actually protested in front of the Reddit’s San Francisco offices last year as part of the group’s whistle-stop tour tour through Silicon Valley. In addition, while Reddit’s culture is generally pro-LGBT, several of the banned subreddits probably would have appeal to the church’s ultra-conservative members.
One of the banned forums was called r/transf*gs, which was dedicated to ridiculing transgender people. The community shared and mocked photos from pro-transgender forums. Another banned subreddit, r/neof*g, harassed the users and administrators of the LGBT-inclusive gaming site NeoGAF.
Illustration by Max Fleishman