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William Shatner questions Reddit's permissive culture, suggests 'downvoting' won't deter hate

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Captain Kirk can conquer Tribbles, but can he conquer Trolls?

shatner (shutterstock)
shatner (shutterstock)

Some celebrities leave Reddit shortly after they collect easy publicity, but Star Trek's William Shatner isn't afraid to stick around and ruffle some feathers. An active user on the site since his first "Ask Me Anything" session in January, Shatner has issued some stern comments about the site's tolerance of hateful or racist users, writing that he is "appalled by some of the immature, horrifically racist, sexist, homophobic, ethnic, etc... posts that are just ignored here." Shatner questions Reddit's hands-off approach, writing that "the fact that someone could come here, debase and degrade people based on race, religion, ethnicity or sexual preference because 'they have a right' to do so without worry of any kind of moderation is sending the wrong message."

That attitude may seem to fly in the face of free speech — a value Reddit (mostly) supports — but Shatner's unimpressed when it comes to hate speech. In response to a comment goading him to become president of the United States ("because apparently you know best," the commenter wrote), Shatner replied: "first of all, I'm Canadian. Second of all Reddit is worldwide. So 'First Amendment' means nothing online."

"Do you believe that the folks who don these cyber masks to post hatred will stop making them because they get downvoted?"

While it's not the first time Reddit's model has been criticized, Shatner's comments highlight the site's ongoing struggle to gain mainstream credibility while embracing offensive or undesirable content. Shatner wrote that "Reddit has been the first 'mainstream' site that I have been to that actually appears to allow racists and other hate mongers to group, congregate, incite and spread their hatred." While some users noted Reddit's voting system, which allows users to promote or suppress content to their liking, Shatner was unconvinced about its efficacy: "you obviously agree with me that there are 'shameful comments' on Reddit that users can downvote and hide," he writes in a response to another user, "but they are still here at the end of the day as are the accounts that make them. Do you believe that the folks who don these cyber masks to post hatred will stop making them because they get downvoted?"

"Embracing that kind of culture is counterproductive to where this world is heading."

Reddit only has a few official rules, including no spam, no personal information, no cheating the system, and no suggestive or sexual content featuring minors. The site has a much broader set of values, called Reddiquette, that consists of suggestions about how to behave -- but it's completely up to individual community moderators to create and enforce rules. Shatner, perhaps like many others who stumble on the site, doesn't seem to appreciate the difference between Reddiquette and the community's official rules. "All I am asking is why there are rules if they are not enforced," Shatner writes. "If censoring or disabling accounts is not an outcome of breaking the rules, then what exactly is?" (Of course, users do get banned from the site and from individual subreddits, but those decisions are often left to volunteer community moderators with nearly-unlimited power.) "I do not pretend to know where the managers of Reddit wish to go with this site," Shatner writes, "but embracing that kind of culture I feel is counterproductive to where this world is heading."

As a member of polite society, Shatner may not fully understand the people he's dealing with -- but that doesn't mean he can't change hearts and minds. The "ShitRedditSays" (SRS) community — one of the site's most controversial subreddits, often providing a running satirical commentary on Reddit's culture — honored Shatner by placing his face on its banner. In response, Shatner asked a Reddit user to act as a digital courier: "could I ask that you send a message over to whomever runs SRS? I would like the banner removed. I do not feel it's appropriate and I am not a member there." The banner was removed shortly after Shatner's request.