Earlier today, I took my children to my great-grandparents’ grave in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto. They don’t have a big headstone or a nice spot. However, they have a big place in my heart: He came to Canada from Barbados, she from Jamaica, and he built two (!) houses for their extended family.
They sent their children to school. One of their sons got some patents on television. A daughter went to University after raising a family and taught school in Africa. Another son became the first black Member of Provincial Parliament in Ontario.
A granddaughter became an early programmer and analyst in Canada. I am her son.
I have been a Redditor on and off since its very beginning. Reddit is a business. And, it seems, a manifestation of the sincerely held extreme libertarian views of its founders on the subject of free speech.
These are nice theories to debate. The practical reality is that Reddit seems to have overtaken Stormfront as the world’s largest white supremacy community. And thus, every page view turns into some fraction of a dollar that powers a server that hosts hate.
Hate for me and my children. Hate for my great-grandparents coming here. Hate that goes beyond talk and becomes shootings and burning of churches, and “standing your ground” against teenagers. To others, hate is just “disagreement.” Or just “appalling talk.” Or just “people of color with thin skins.”
The practical reality is that Reddit seems to have overtaken Stormfront as the world’s largest white supremacy community.
I grew up worshipping in a historically black church. There’s another just down the street from me. There’s also a mosque and a Buddhist temple, mind you. So when people talk about hate, it may merely be “offensive speech” when you, your children, and your neighbors are not the people they want to exterminate.
But it is more than that to me.
I don’t need to debate whether someone is legally allowed to have a certain type of hateful speech—or whether its effects go beyond merely being “appalling” or “offensive.” What I know is this: Choosing to build a for-profit business around hosting such speech is a choice, and choosing whether to support that business is also a choice.
Hate is an unpleasant side effect of hosting unfettered free speech in exactly the same way that cancer is an unpleasant side effect of selling cigarettes.
The Internet has free speech: You host your own website or your own forums. Choosing to run a business that hosts certain types of speech has nothing to do with making sure people have a right to speak freely: It’s inviting them to speak on your dime, and choosing to make money from their speech and their audience.
So Reddit has made its choice, and now I must make mine.
Sometimes you think about all this and say, “I accept the responsibility, and the benefit I provide outweighs the bad things.” And sometimes you say, “No, the benefit does not outweigh the bad things, and I will not play along.”
I am choosing to stop playing along. I’ve removed most of the links to Reddit discussions from Raganwald.Com. My income will certainly go down. But for me personally, that is meaningless in the broader picture. I don’t want to make money from lung cancer, so I don’t do business with tobacco companies. I don’t want to do business with people who monetize hate, either.
So I won’t.
This article was originally featured on Braythwayt.Com and reposted with permission.
Reginald Braithwaite currently works at PagerDuty and was formerly part of the team at GitHub. He writes a hands-on technical blog called raganwald.com, speaks at conferences, and has written a few books.
Illustration by Jason Reed