The Most Feared Corner of the Internet has Been Dismantled

As of June 10th, 2015, under Reddit’s new harassment policies, /fatpeoplehate has been banned, along with several other subreddits. Ellen Pao, Reddit’s interim CEO, is the trailblazer for this victory, which is evident as she has stood up to sexism in the workplace before.

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From reading their most recent interviews on their new anti-harassment policy, it seems they are attacking the beasts from the roots. Reddit has come up with a way to track repeat abusers, even though they use an anonymous platform. They will focus on tracking IPs and other ways to access the site. Redditors can be smart and savvy, and the ones who use that power for evil are going to be met with a strong defensive force.

Just last week, one of my photos was taken from Tumblr and posted on /fatpeoplehate. I wouldn’t have known about the post unless someone anonymously messaged me on Tumblr to warn me. The subreddit post with my photo had over 100 comments about how I am not worthy of love, should kill myself, and asserting assumptions about my health. Surprisingly enough, this was the first time I was aware that I was posted on this community forum for bigots. For the week, I deleted my selfies from my blog, and all personal writing I could find. This would all be considered ammo, as these redditors tore apart every fiber of my cyber being.

Cyber harassment inspires a new kind of anxiety. You can definitely shut your laptop and walk away, but an anonymous forum feels like this could be possibly what everyone around you is thinking and not saying. You begin to question every physical-life relationship and conversation you’ve ever had, as if there is an underlying layer of hatred towards you that you never previously considered. While these people are stewing away at their keyboards, skinning every fat person alive with swift swipes along QWERTY, even the strongest of self-love advocates can be crushed from the pressure of their words. When someone yells obscenities about one’s body from a passing car, they can shout back a statement of power or roll their eyes, but when hundreds of posts ban together to hyper analyze one’s being fueled by hate, it feels omnipresent and unbeatable. Since there is no tangible body to fight, everyone becomes the enemy.

Fat bodies everywhere are trained to wear invisible armor. We fit ourselves in to boxes and stereotypes that we know people can accept in order to protect us from constant attacks on our appearance. We’re the funny one, who can bounce any hateful comment off with fat joke, right off the tip of our tongues. We’re the fashionable one, who wears bright lipstick and proves beauty at any size, matched with a shopping addiction. We’re the adventurous one, who is active in a very visible way, so that our audience is reassured that we’re trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Our tropes are our defense. We can fit ourselves in delectable, organized personality departments, so that nobody can attest to us taking up too much space and being too complicated for a fat person.

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Ellen Pao, Reddit’s interim CEO.

This doesn’t just happen to fat bodies. We see this most often showcased with race, gender, economic status, and those who are differently-abled. Most of the redditors who were participating in /fatpeoplehate adorned usernames that signified just how racist and ablist they are. Think: lots of mentions of Nazis. Slurs are encouraged and general hate is celebrated. This subreddit has been terrorizing, whether as trolls or actual delusional bigots, for years. Seeing Reddit respond with such vigor goes to show that they are recognizing that hating fat people isn’t good for business. There are thousands of places on the internet that can be a platform for hate and harassment, but dismantling one of the largest communities for continuous attacks on specific people is a very strong, positive move. Pao has been interested in creating more of an ad-driven space, which redditors can feel safe in. In order to have advertisers interested, and to build Reddit in a credible direction, there isn’t much room for racist bigots. Other companies, aka people with money that could go to Reddit, will likely not want that on their backs.

Even though it’s not clear if this decision is because of a need for a cyber safe space or because dollar signs are flashing, this is a huge move that represents an enormous societal change. I’m sure this change will keep away several lawsuits from those who have feared their life from death threats made on the site and it also signifies a new era of thinking in advertising. These new policies prove that the kind of audience that advertisers are selling to has changed.  The biggest victory is that this incredibly influential space, that made its mark from things other than hate-forums has decided to make these trolls less visible. This means that more people will be educated, or at the least, aware of cyber harassment and the anxiety and pain that can come from “harmless teasing” online. Hopefully, this leads to less and less children being silently bullied online, less and less suicides due to the lack of support both in their physical life and online outlets. The internet is a super power, and this move proves that we can use this power for good.

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