Reddit has raised more than a few eyebrows with a decision to ban a large number of fairly influential sites. Reddit asserts that people from a selection of domains had been spamming the social network in order to promote their respective sites.
At the time of writing, the list of verboten domains includes Phys.org, TheAtlantic.com, BusinessWeek.com, ScienceDaily.com, GlobalPost.com, TheAtlanticWire.com, Funny-On-YouTube.com, TheAtlanticCities.com, Echomon.com, MedicalXPress.com and Blogs.Discovermagazine.com. Reddit has only started banning high-quality domains this week so there will certainly be more to come.
Reddit’s rationale for taking the action makes sense: people from the sites in question have been submitting links to their own material and presumably have encouraged people that they know to upvote their links. A front-page link on Reddit can generate a tremendous amount of traffic and that makes for more ad dollars.
For website owners whose sites get a lot of action from Reddit, this would be a worrying development – regardless of whether they have been cheating the system or not. Let’s say that an author has been writing for a long time and has picked up one or two super-fans along the way – fans that also happen to be Reddit users. If the fans were to regularly submit that author’s material to Reddit, then it might appear that the author in question was responsible. A large number of submissions from the same IP would appear suspicious to the moderators. By taking action against the domain instead of the person responsible, they would be penalizing the wrong person – and he or she would have no recourse.
For Reddit, it is not a big issue. There are plenty more websites out on the Internet and they can afford to be choosy. Does it make for a better user experience? Yes and no – in the short term, users lose a few options with regards to the links that they are able to submit, but it should introduce a little more variety and may give smaller sites a chance to make a bigger impact in the Reddit community. Still, it amounts to a form of censorship, which is something that Reddit has been very vocal in combatting. It also raises a bigger question: would they ever consider banning a Condé Nast publication?
What it comes down to is this: there are behaviors that threaten the integrity of link sharing networks like Reddit, Digg and the like – constant spam is a problem, but getting all of the people that you work with to vote a link up has a far more detrimental impact. If people don’t like a spammy link they won’t vote it up and it will die a quick death. Bigger sites can bypass that step by pushing a link into a prominent position – at the expense of any site that doesn’t employ enough people to achieve the same thing. Banning domains is one way to put a stop to this, but one can’t help but think that the better course of action would be to simply ban the individuals (and IPs) of people that are involved with spam.