In the wee hours of Monday morning, June 21, down came the Reddit ban hammer. The popular subreddit TumblrInAction, with almost 500,000 active users, and its little sister sub, SocialJusticeInAction, with 96,000 users, each received a no-warning ban for “promoting hate” on the platform.
What did these Redditors do wrong to merit such a punishment? These subs allowed users to post anti-woke and often truthful, gender-critical content that pushed “identity invalidation.” Reddit’s victims had employed free speech on the platform, thus becoming popular and therefore had to go.
Until its demise on Monday, r/TumblrInAction (TIA) had been one of the more popular and older subreddits to feature funny and critical content on, among other things, the modern trans and gender identity movements.
As Alex “the Hatman,” a top TIA moderator and the creator of SocialJusticeInAction (SJIA), shared with me, the notification they received from Reddit said the subreddits had been taken down for “violating Reddit’s rule against promoting hate.” Yet he “received no word from the administrators as to what posts specifically were the cause of the ban,” Hatman said.
It might seem strange in retrospect, but until the ban, the subs had been in Reddit’s good graces without a single significant issue or warning before this year. Just six months ago, a Reddit administrator reached out to Hatman to let him know that TIA would be in danger of a ban if they didn’t enforce an unwritten rule about “identity invalidation,” or as Hatman told me, “Basically, the idea that if we don’t affirm someone’s self-identity, we’re engaging in hate speech,” no matter how serious or silly it may be.
The LibsofTikTok of Reddit
To Hatman and the other mods, this demand based on an unspecific clause seemed preposterous. These two subs had started as a way to dispute the trans and gender identity movements long before the corporate media came on board, whether they are “claiming to be Benjamin Franklin” or “they’re a wolf trapped inside a human body,” as the TIA sub would say.
The subs were comparable to the Reddit version of the LibsofTikTok Twitter account, whose content was sometimes shared. On the sub would be a mix of run-of-the-mill conservative content, with a smattering of libertarian posts and lots of documenting the crazy things “SJWs” would say. The purpose of the subs was to allow free speech to thrive on complicated topics that couldn’t be discussed elsewhere and to do it humorously.
For most of their run, the subs weren’t specifically about the trans issue. TIA’s more full tilt on discussing the issue of detransitioning came after subreddits specifically about that issue, r/GenderCritical and r/LGBDropTheT got shut down in 2020. Hartman said TIA became a haven for free speech and attracted Redditors who needed it.
“We were known for not banning people based on their genuinely-held opinions,” Hartman said. “As a result, the number of posts about trans-identified people on TIA skyrocketed, and we were considered a ‘TERF-friendly sub’ by those who hated us.”
When asked for comment on the ban, a Reddit spokesman said they had “nothing to share outside of the public ban message for the subreddit.”
Nowhere is Safe
Following this shock ban, many moderators for other right-wing-ish subs are very much disconcerted. Reddit is signaling that no subreddit is safe. Much more mainstream conservative subreddits like r/PoliticalCompassMemes, r/conservative, or r/JordanPeterson could be next to feel the Reddit administration’s wrath.
Silicon Valley’s unwritten rules are almost so obvious as not to merit discussion. From the recent case of YouTube demonetizing the Act Man for highlighting YouTube’s purposeful ignorance of abuse on their platform, to banning Donald Trump from Twitter and r/The_Donald from Reddit; here we have yet another case of selective enforcement. It doesn’t matter what official company rules are broken. It only matters if Big Tech moderators want someone gone.
As for the mods of TIA and SJIA, they leave with their heads held high but carrying a warning: “We simply enforced the global rules as written. We never compromised our values—we always allowed people to speak their genuinely-held opinions, as long as it didn’t cross over into actual, unironic bigotry. When the admins told us to go further with their unwritten ‘identity invalidation’ rule, we refused, and it’s possible that that refusal is what got us banned in the end. If it is, then we went out with our principles intact.”