On Guard: Reddit to trounce trolls, so why not start with R/SanFrancisco? 

click to enlarge San Francisco-based Reddit.com has overwhelmed the ongoing debate over housing by burying posts from people who want The City to stop building.
  • San Francisco-based Reddit.com has overwhelmed the ongoing debate over housing by burying posts from people who want The City to stop building.
OK everyone, let’s take a break from the bare-knuckle politicking and city-wide rabble rousing for some good old-fashioned newspaper navel-gazing.

There’s a media problem in San Francisco. It’s not necessarily with The City’s remaining grey ladies, but with the “front page of the Internet”: Reddit.

Reddit.com is a San Francisco-based Internet community message board on which users post news articles, comments and photos. Then, in that list of articles, you can up or downvote them, and comment underneath.

Newsflash: These online debates are often hate-filled and toxic. I know, Internet comments, vitriolic? Color me shocked.

Reddit is finally addressing this. Last week, the San Francisco-based company announced they’ll honor messages from users who report harassment.

“We’ve seen many conversations devolve into attacks against individuals,” CEO Ellen Pao and other Reddit staffers wrote in a blog post last Thursday. This hostile environment varies from page to page, known in Reddit parlance as “subreddits” (thank heavens for r/kittens). But the San Francisco subreddit is a beast all its own, and deserves special attention. “I love my city, and I hate the homeless who shit on its sidewalks and harass the passers-by,” reads one Reddit post on the subreddit r/SanFrancisco, with 165 “upvotes.” Compassion, indeed. More subtle than the homeless hate is the tendency of people who believe building, building, building more housing is San Francisco’s only (sole, singular) way out of the housing crisis, to dominate discussions.

If you care at all about the housing debate, you should care about this: R/SanFrancisco’s housing discussions are almost entirely dominated by supply-side supporters.

It’s a fine point of view to have, but it’s not the only one. If you read Reddit, you’d think it’s the only way San Franciscans think.

One Examiner article posted to Reddit, about how Airbnb use may take as many as 2,000 units off the rental market, garnered many comments from supply-and-demand absolutists who dismissed the report the article highlighted.

“Why don’t we increase the housing supply by banning hotels from providing hotel space? There are 33,642 hotel rooms in San Francisco, which would clearly quadruple the vacancy rate,” one redditor wrote. “Or, rather than the Hobbsian war... you could just, you know...build housing.”

Having an opinion is fine and dandy, but these folks are deciding which articles get “upvoted,” and if this worldview shapes what articles make their way to the Front Page of the Internet, it’d be helpful if they don’t drown out opposing voices.

But drown them out they do.

“Instead of promoting free expression of ideas, we are seeing our open policies stifling free expression; people avoid participating for fear of their personal and family safety,” Pao and her fellow Reddit team wrote.

In a Reddit survey, 50 percent of people who wouldn’t recommend Reddit cited hateful or offensive content as the reason why. Free speech is stifled by hate speech.

Surely by now you must be asking, “why does it matter that another Internet portal has hostile commenters?”

Nationally, 2 percent of all news is linked to through Reddit, according to the Pew Research center. Short of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, Reddit is the next biggest player in line.

Those figures line up with The Examiner’s traffic as well, our web-heads tell me. So while other comment boards online are easy to ignore, this is a comment board that drives (some) serious traffic to news sites.

Reddit’s San Francisco page may be a vital link in news “going viral,” and it’s a vital link in the news economy. It’s worth your time to join the discussion, and help R/SanFrancisco become a less toxic place.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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