The narrative about Reddit’s “coming of age” tends to focus on two conflicting threads: the rise of Reddit as a wildly popular website, internet gatekeeper, and host of high-profile interviews; and the site’s ever-shocking backrooms, where small groups of bad people gather, become friends, and occasionally organize for a cause. It’s /r/charity vs. /r/mensrights, or /r/ama vs. /r/creepshots.
But the vast majority of Reddit users don’t care about this stuff. They visit Reddit for funny pictures and interesting links — they treat it more like a website than a community — and rarely interact with the trolls or the racists or the creeps. To them, the central tension of Reddit doesn’t revolve around free speech. It revolves around jerks.
Particularly, the jerks from /r/politics and /r/atheism, two of the site’s loudest and most prominent sections. Which, as of today, have been removed from the front page, according to Reddit’s administrators:
We know many of you will wonder what happened to /r/politics and /r/atheism and why they were removed from the default set. We could give you a canned corporate answer or a diplomatic answer that is carefully crafted for the situation. But since this is reddit, we’re going to try things a bit differently and give you the real answer: they just weren’t up to snuff. Now, don’t get us wrong, there still ARE good parts about them. Overall, they just haven’t continued to grow and evolve like the other subreddits we’ve decided to add.
In their place, casual Reddit visitors will see links from /r/television, /r/gifs, /r/books and others.
Both of these sections played a formative role in Reddit’s rise to prominence — /r/politics was a staging ground for Ron Paul’s 2008 campaign, for example. Today it’s a noisy pit of rhetoric, where the favored post style is a linkless, 50-word essay headline (hot right now: a post headlined, “Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels pledged to promote academic freedom when he became president of Purdue University but newly released emails show he attempted to eliminate what he considered liberal ‘propaganda’ at Indiana’s public universities while governor.”).
Reddit’s atheism forum has become the internet’s de facto gathering place for young militant atheists, which, I mean, have you ever met a young militant atheist? The kind of kid who, fresh off a heady afternoon watching Richard Dawkins videos, is just super pumped to humiliate his Christian aunt next time she posts about church on Facebook? /r/atheism is that, times a million. (Or, times 2,174,577, to be exact.) When people talk about disliking “Redditors,” they’re often just talking about this.
Both of these sections were large enough, and historically important enough to the site’s users, that they remained in the front-page mix for almost everyone. But they’re both animated by the idea that being technically right about your primary point, or being able to point to evidence of hypocrisy in your opponent, entitles you to say whatever you want, however you want, and to be respected for it.
In demoting them, Reddit has done its casual users a service, and slapped some of its most annoying — and often, dedicated — users on the wrist. Here’s the top comment on the Reddit thread discussing the announcement, which has over 4000 upvotes:
Anyway: If you notice Reddit feeling just a little bit nicer today, that’s why.