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UPDATE: The permanent ban against me was lifted this morning (Feb. 7th) by a different admin than the one who imposed it. In addition, after one Reddit admin refused to remove a vile anti-Semitic attack on me, a different one actually suspended the account of u/islamofascisto.
Today, I was permanently banned from Reddit (see screenshot). Most of you may not participate in Reddit or even care about it. But my banning is part of a much larger, and critical phenomenon in the suppression of online debate about Israel-Palestine. So even if Reddit doesn’t mean much to you, hang in there and read the rest of this.
As most of you are aware, it’s difficult (to say the least) to get media to publish analysis and commentary from a progressive perspective on Israel-Palestine. Personally, I have three outlets which currently publish my work, for which I’m grateful. But my editors reject far more of my pitches than they accept. I’m not complaining, because I’m grateful for those which they do accept.
Because of these limited publication options, I publish this blog. It allows me not only to publish the work which my editors cannot publish, but also to publish long-form investigative pieces and commentary. An example of this is my post on the issue of genocide. But on its own, the blog’s audience is limited. That’s why social media platforms play a critical role in promoting my work. Posting links to Twitter, Facebook and Reddit draws a substantial audience to my pieces published by media outlets and here.
Over the years, there have been successful attempts by pro-Israel users of Twitter and Facebook to coordinate efforts to report and ban my content. I have been temporarily suspended on both sites for content critical of Israeli settlers and for publishing images of Israeli military-intelligence agents who infiltrated Gaza. In many of these cases, my appeal caused the suspension to be lifted. Thankfully, for a number of years, content moderators at these two sites have not taken any such action against my accounts.
I have been a Redditor for nearly 20 years. I am a mod for the r/BDS sub. I was a mod for the r/Palestine sub for a year. I’ve earned 33,000 “Karma points” for my participation in the site over the years. In all that time, I have never been suspended and never notified that any content I published was banned. That changed after I posted a link to my blog post to the r/Armenia sub, which reported on a secret Israeli arms sale to Azerbaijan. Two commenters in particular posted pro-Israel views, which I responded to. One of the comments told me to “go kill myself.”
I then received a complaint from a Reddit admin (not from the sub or any of its mods) that my comments in the sub constituted “harassment.” I was warned not to engage in this behavior. I replied to the mod asking why my comment constituted harassment, when another commenter had incited me to commit suicide. The result was a three-day suspension presumably for “harassing” the admin. Then a week or so later, I was again suspended for harassment, this time for seven days. I appealed this decision to an independent Reddit admin and it was rescinded.
Today, I received a notice that I was permanently banned from Reddit for a comment I posted at the r/Iranian sub two months ago. Again, the sub itself nor its mods reported this comment at the time it was published or afterward.
Clearly, what’s happening is that there is a particular pro-Israel admin who has targeted me and is determined to drive me off Reddit. I don’t know if this individual is doing this on his own initiative or whether this is part of an effort coordinated by others, in which he is participating. In other words, it’s possible that a pro-Israel group within Reddit is orchestrating this effort; and they may be directed by the numerous semi-official campaigns directed by Israeli ministries and their external assets.
By now, it should be clear why this is important: I am a sharp thorn in the side of the pro-Israel forces online. If they can deprive me of one of my main outlets to make people aware of my views, then they succeed in suppressing my voice. In turn, this makes the internet a safer place for pro-Israel content and gives it more room to percolate in the ongoing debate over Israel-Palestine.
Of course, Palestinian voices face even more censorship than my own. It is critical to give this phenomenon all the attention it deserves. But as a Jew playing my own role in exposing the misdeeds of the Israeli national security state, I am a special target for the ire of pro-Israel interests.
I have appealed the latest permanent ban. I hope the outcome will be the same as my last appeal and it will be lifted. Though there is no guarantee this will be the outcome.
Reddit proudly calls itself “The Front Page of the Internet.” It is one of the most popular websites in the world. It currently has a $10-billion valuation and plans to go public sometime this year. But there’s clearly something wrong here and it needs to be addressed. “Admins gone wild” is not a good look for a company hoping to make its debut on Wall Street. Not to mention that after going public Reddit will be subject to SEC regulation. Bad PR and charges of censorship and high-handedness are profoundly unhelpful to the site’s long-term business interests, as Mark Zuckerberg has learned to his chagrin.
If you use Reddit, please make the mods at all the subs I mentioned above aware of the permanent ban, sending them the link to this post, since I cannot communicate with anyone on the site. If you happen to know any admins and could make them aware of this post, I’d be grateful.
Reddit: A Dream Turned Nightmare
When Aaron Swartz founded Reddit and Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia, they created a wonderful, democratic, de-centralized forum to share and disseminate critical views and content. The vehicle they created was incredibly innovative–a perfect example of the internet at its best.
But the very decentralized, democratic nature of the platforms opened them to manipulation by those who violated the spirit and mission of the sites. Most management functions were performed by volunteers who earned their roles via previous levels of participation. As such, while there were standards which had to be met to take on an administrative role, there were groups and individuals who could game the system in favor of their own interests.
A perfect example of the weakness of the Reddit model and the slipshod way in which admins perform their role, is the response to my reporting the abusive comment by “u/islamofascisto” displayed above, which called me “a steaming pile of feces, a “lunatic” and resorted to juvenile name-calling by changing my name to “Stinkerstine.” Reddit admins did not find such anti-Semitic garbage constituted hate speech or violated the site’s content policy. Which makes you wonder who’s minding the store there and whether they have any idea what they’re doing.
Wikipedia exhibits the ironclad hold of a pro-Israel clique on Wikipedia, with pro-Israel editors swarming specific articles with comments and edits, and voting down edits and articles which harm Israeli interests. Currently, most Israel-Palestine content is restricted, and only users who’ve made 500 previous edits can do so to these articles.
The same format holds true regarding Reddit. It is largely managed by volunteers who bring all of the goodwill or self-interest that human beings bring to their activities. Thus, it’s relatively easy for a pro-Israel admin to finesse their way into such a role, and influence the tone and content of the site. In my case, this particular admin has removed an important voice from Reddit and knowingly advanced pro-Israel interests to crowd out views like mine.
This is a general phenomenon in the digital sphere. Social media platforms in general police content and tend to use a heavier hand on left-wing content than right-wing content. There is much legitimate complaint about moderation and amplification of far-right views on Twitter and Facebook. But at least they employ staff who are trained to do this job. And they do so, presumably using some sort of standardized approach that is uniform for all content (at least that’s what the sites claim). We all know that this isn’t true a great deal of the time. But I think the general structure and theoretical assumptions behind it are sound.
On the other hand, Reddit and Wikipedia, while they may offer similar standards and offer some training to volunteer admins, essentially run on an ad hoc basis. In the case of Reddit in particular, there is no transparency to decision-making processes. Mods for subs make their own decisions based on whim, prejudice or sometimes legitimate concerns. But if you are suspended by a site admin, you are only told what rule you violated and what content you published violated the rule. You do not know who made this decision or under what considerations it was made. You do not know if such decisions are ever reviewed by other admins. If, as in my case, you complain to the admin who filed a case against you, the punishment is escalated in a manner that is punitive, rather than legitimate.
In this way, it is easier on Wikipedia and Reddit to manipulate the system in favor of pro-Israel content, than on Twitter or Facebook. This should offer all the more reason for the former two platforms to constantly monitor their admins, decisions they make, and how they justify them. If they don’t police their admins vigorously, censorship like this is the result.
Since I cannot post this to Reddit, I’d be grateful if you are a user to post it in suitable subs. I don’t have to worry about being punished by any Reddit admin for this post. I’ve already suffered the ultimate penalty. It can’t get any worse. But maybe, just maybe there is hope that the system can right itself and do the right thing. That’s what Aaron Swartz would have wanted were he alive today.