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The Streisand-Challenor effect

On the evening of the 22nd March, visitors to the main UK politics subreddit, /r/ukpolitics found a mysterious message saying that the subreddit, which has nearly 400,000 members, had been set to “private” by its own volunteer moderators.

It was the beginning of a cascade. The lights are going off all over Reddit! Subreddit after subreddit was set to private in sympathy with /r/ukpolitics. Most of them dealt with topics unrelated to politics. At its peak the wave of protest closures affected subreddits collectively having tens of millions of members all over the world.

To understand why this protest against Reddit by its own users gained such traction, we need to go back to the 8th of March when the Spectator published an article by its unlikeliest new writer, the radical left wing “gender critical” feminist Julie Bindel, called “The Green party’s woman problem”. It contained the lines,

The formidable feminist author and journalist Bea Campbell, a former Green party candidate, resigned from the party last year after being disciplined, in part for refusing to keep quiet about the shocking and disturbing Aimee Challenor case.

That brief reference to “the Aimee Challenor case” was to have dramatic consequences. A hyperlink on the word “case” linked in turn to this Independent article dated 13 January 2019:

Aimee Challenor: Green star failed to properly alert party of father’s child rape charges Independent investigation found transgender activist only alerted two colleagues in ‘informal’ Facebook message

Having parted ways with the Greens, Aimee Challenor joined the Liberal Democrats. Once again her association with the party ended as a result of child safeguarding issues related to someone with whom she lived. This time it was her fiancé Nathaniel Knight. He claims his twitter account was hacked.

A point to note: these events were widely reported. Given a prompt about a person who had left both the Greens and the Lib Dems under a cloud, anyone who follows UK political news would probably be able to dig up her name in half a dozen keystrokes.

Getting back to the main story, at about quarter to eleven on the morning of the 23rd, the ukpolitics subreddit reappeared. It now carried the following announcement:

As you will have noticed, the moderators set the subreddit to private last night. This is not a decision we took lightly, but one that was made to protect both the users and moderators of /r/ukpolitics.

A moderator posted an article from the Spectator – which contained a three-word mention, in passing, of a minor British public figure (expelled from both the Liberal Democrats and Green Party) – and was permanently suspended from Reddit (and later reinstated after we contacted the admins) for “doxxing” as a result.

As we had no idea what had happened, or why posting this article resulted in a permanent suspension, we took the emergency step of making the subreddit private and immediately contacting the admins for clarification. We took this step to protect both the users of the subreddit, and ourselves, from further action by the Reddit admin staff. It later became apparent that Reddit has hired this individual as an Reddit admin, and were banning people from discussing her past to protect their employee from harassment.

Subreddits are moderated by unpaid part-time volunteers. Those who take on that task tend to be longstanding members of and frequent posters to the subreddit concerned. For them to be thrown out of Reddit forever would be to lose part of their identity. It would be a double blow to find out that Reddit, the organisation to which they effectively donate some of their time, is willing to eject them and falsely label them a doxxer simply for repeating a particular person’s name, even if they did so only because that name was cited in a magazine article. To find out that this was being done on behalf of – or actually by – a specific individual within the Reddit hierarchy in order to censor any talk of that person’s discreditable past felt very like the old horror movie trope of “the calls are coming from inside the house”.

I think that what most outraged /r/ukpolitics was the general censorship to protect one person and the idea that people could be banned for an “offence” they did not even know they were committing. For many of the subreddits which joined the growing protest the burning question seemed to be more “why did Reddit give a person with a history like this the power to police the speech of others?” Here I have to say that I have not been able to confirm this, but it was widely claimed that Aimee Challenor (or, as she now is, Aimee Knight) was involved in the administration of subreddits aimed at children and young people.

I often visit some of the non-political subreddits that went private in solidarity with /r/ukpolitics. I have not seen any objections to Reddit employing trans women in general. In fact the ones I know best have a high proportion of LGBT members, including the T.

Whatever Aimee Knight’s exact role at Reddit was, she no longer has it. Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, posting under his username “spez” posted a statement saying,

As of today, the employee in question is no longer employed by Reddit. We built a relationship with her first as a mod and then through her contractor work on RPAN. We did not adequately vet her background before formally hiring her.

We’ve put significant effort into improving how we handle doxxing and harassment, and this employee was the subject of both. In this case, we over-indexed on protection, which had serious consequences in terms of enforcement actions.

On March 9th, we added extra protections for this employee, including actioning content that mentioned the employee’s name or shared personal information on third-party sites, which we reserve for serious cases of harassment and doxxing.

On March 22nd, a news article about this employee was posted by a mod of r/ukpolitics. The article was removed and the submitter banned by the aforementioned rules. When contacted by the moderators of r/ukpolitics, we reviewed the actions, and reversed the ban on the moderator, and we informed the r/ukpolitics moderation team that we had restored the mod.
We updated our rules to flag potential harassment for human review.

At this point some of you will ask, what has this to do with the issues that usually concern Samizdata? Is not Reddit a private company, free to permit or forbid speech as it sees fit and to employ or ban whomever it wants? Apart from the fact that it is an interesting example of spontaneous popular pushback against Big Tech censorship, I respond that some of the political relevance of this story arises from the answer to the question so many were asking: why did Reddit employ this person in the first place? The Babylon Bee‘s headline, “Reddit fires Aimee Knight after apparently failing the simple task of Googling her name”, wears only the lightest veil of satire.

We all know why. It was because for a human resources manager at a politically correct company like Reddit to dig too deeply into the past of a transgender candidate for employment would have been seen as transphobic. Did I say “dig too deeply”? They do not appear to have even scraped the spade along the top of the soil. The commendable desire to avoid prejudice has become a refusal to be judicious at all. As I have said many times before and expect to say many times again, this unquestioning attitude is bad for everyone including members of the allegedly protected group. You see the same pattern in many contexts. Take asylum seekers and refugees: In 2018 the news that an official report said that “Nearly two-thirds of ‘child’ refugees who were questioned about their real age after coming to Britain were found to be adults” caused a great increase in public suspicion of genuine child refugees and of refugees in general. Another example of the phenomenon was pointed out by Thomas Sowell:

…progressives widely see criminal background checks for employment as racist. But in reality, employers that use background checks employ black workers at a higher rate. This is because without the checks blacks with clean records suffer from the fact that they belong to a group with a higher crime rate. Ideally, one could argue that employers shouldn’t take group tendencies into account, but until that happens, background checks are a solution that actually works.

If people are forbidden or discouraged from checking up on individual members of a “protected” group it does the very opposite of allaying suspicion of that group. Not only that, bad characters within the group exploit the absence of normal checks and balances.

15 comments to The Streisand-Challenor effect

  • William O. B'Livion

    At this point some of you will ask, what has this to do with the issues that usually concern Samizdata? Is not Reddit a private company, free to permit or forbid speech as it sees fit and to employ or ban whomever it wants?

    We all have a vested interest in a culture that believes in free speech.

    So let’s draw the distinction between someone who runs a forum on knitting to prohibit political advocacy on the platform (unless it relates to knitting), and someone who provides a platform for *constructing* fora who arbitrarily and capriciously changes the rules.

    I have absolutely no problem with the former. Relatively clear rules, relatively clear lines.

    The second, especially when weaponized as they have done, is a monstrous evil.

    While it might be coercive to call for legislation *force* companies to allow free speech on the platforms they build, it is certainly fair game to call out the anti-freedom assholes for what they are.

    Sic Semper Tyrannus

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Great post. Important points made at the end. And I’m glad to see what happened at Reddit, which really was pretty disgraceful, to be getting more attention in the blogosphere, especially since the Fake News Media won’t cover it.

    I have no idea what the point of William O. B’Livion’s comment is.

  • staghounds

    That link isn’t to the Babylon Bee, it’s to Not The Bee.

  • William O. B'Livion

    I have no idea what the point of William O. B’Livion’s comment is.

    Ms. Solent asked a question, and I was responding to that question.

    Companies do–and should–have the right control their property, we have least an obligation and more like a duty to advocate for free speech.

    There is a difference between creating a space for discussion on a narrow subject, and then insisting people stick to that subject, and creating a space for discussion on *any* subject (or more accurately any *legal* subject) and then casting out people who say things you don’t like.

  • APL

    “was involved in the administration of subreddits aimed at children and young people.”

    surprise /sarc

    Natalie Solent: “We all know why”.

    Oh yes. SJ cancer. Eating away at the vitals of a free and open society.

  • Mr Ed

    The legal position is that it is unlawful and actionable to refuse to employ someone (in almost all circumstances) on the basis of a protected characteristic, such as gender reassignment, and it is unlawful to refuse to employ someone on the ground that they have done a ‘protected act‘, such as alleging that a person has infringed anti-discrimination legislation.

    Any HR manager who did an online search on a candidate and found information relating to either aspect of a candidate for employment (or membership of a political party) would be setting the employer to be liable, and also themselves up to be potentially personally liable, for an award of compensation if they knew of a protected characteristic (more than is obvious from, say, age, ethnicity or gender), and if it can be shown that the employer or its manager knew before declining a candidate of certain facts, then it makes it harder to defend a lawsuit.

    Also, prospective employers can search the Register of Employment Tribunal decisions to check up on candidates, and employees on employers to see if they have a ‘record’, which also puts employers in a position where if they don’t hire someone who is a serial claimant for discrimination, they may be liable.

    It’s hard to run your life on the basis of the truth these days.

  • John Lewis

    He/she will be back.

    As the subreddits in question were aimed at young people and children one can only wonder what might have been and actually was allowed and encouraged to happen under the stewardship of this person. In happier times the absence of any media reports could be taken as an indication that all was above board.

  • Jacob

    “and it is unlawful to refuse to employ someone…”
    Since an employer may employ thousands of people, and reject many more thousands of applicants, it would be ridiculous to force him to state a motive for each rejection.
    And – if he does NOT do background checking on applicants – it would be criminally negligent on his part vs his company and customers.

  • Lee Moore

    Since an employer may employ thousands of people, and reject many more thousands of applicants, it would be ridiculous to force him to state a motive for each rejection.

    Although their function has now moved on – to ram SJW stuff down the throats of employees – Human Resources departments were originally formed for precisely this purpose – to protect the employer in discrimination lawsuits by enabling the employer to show an official process or procedure, with forms and boxes to tick. The existence of such procedures and the evidence of the forms would offer a defence against lawsuits from undergruntled employees or rejected applicants who could claim membership of legally favoured oppressed groups.

    HR was never there to help businesses hire on merit – it was a legal defence mechanism. Woe betide employers who simply hired on the individual impressions of the manager of the department. That would have been simply handing out fistfulls of money to tortwrights and their lawyers.

  • bad characters within the group exploit the absence of normal checks and balances.

    And also, of course, additional bad characters whom one might suspect of not, in the privacy of their own heads, thinking they are members of the group, but just exploiting the absence of normal checks and balances on claiming to be a member of the group, so they can then exploit their absence in what members of the group can do. It is a woke duty to believe the guy who was held in a woman’s prison until after committing rapes there was a depraved and evil trans woman, not a depraved and evil man.

    The woke have a talent for harming those they claim to help.

  • Since an employer may employ thousands of people, and reject many more thousands of applicants, it would be ridiculous to force him to state a motive for each rejection. (Lee Moore, March 27, 2021 at 2:18 pm)

    Since when has being ridiculous been an obstacle to political correctness? It is a good three decades ago that a very gifted Japanese-American student at Oxford described to me how tedious it was for her father, a tenured US academic, to get a hundred applicants for a post and be obliged by political correctness to write out individual reasons for rejecting ninety-nine of them, each tailored to avoid (as far as possible) leaving any opportunity for anyone to allege prejudice. In academia, this is old.

  • Lee Moore

    I was quoting Jacob, M’lud.

  • Paul Marks

    “Politics is downstream from culture” as Andrew Breitbart used to say.

    About five thousand years ago a culture emerged in what is now Russia and the Ukraine and spread out from there, a patriarchal warrior culture, based on individuals and families (rather than the mass graves and communal cooperation more normal in Western Europe at the time), with individually owned property, Sky God (Gods) worshipping, with mental tools, spoked wheels and tamed horses. This culture and cultures that developed from it, in turn and over centuries, gave rise to other cultures – such as the Celts, the Ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Germanic peoples, the Slavs, and so on.

    It is really this culture and cultures (and the ethnic group that is sometimes associated with it – although the relationship between culture and ethnic group is NOT a simple one) that the “Woke” movement wishes to exterminate.

    Sadly the “Woke” movement includes most of Big Business – yes, they are dedicated to destroying the culture that (over time) created them.

    This is basically a man hacking his own legs off – and then being astonished that he can no longer stand up, and indeed is bleeding to death.

    By the way the spoked wheel is still a symbol in India – showing how far this culture spread, indeed the people spread as far as what is now large parts of China (although they were later essentially wiped out in this area by a rise of another people). They later lost out in Central Asia – again over very long periods of time. That was partly reversed from the 17th to the 20th century by the expansion of the Russian Empire back into areas where their ancient ancestors had once lived. But it gets very complicated.

    The people now in control of the United States military are quite clear about their desire to wipe out this culture – at least in the United States military itself. Such things as hard work, individual skill, achievement based on merit, and logical thought (and the concept of objective truth) will not be tolerated.

    Most other institutions in the modern West agree with the people who now control the United States armed forces – and are dedicated to exterminating this culture, WESTERN CULTURE.

    The “Woke” will not tolerate these things (hard work, logical thought, individual merit, objective truth…) – which they believe to be evil, and call “whiteness” even when they are shown by black people.

    “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civilization has got to go!” as the students who are now academics, used to chant.

    And the people who control most of Big Business strongly agree.

  • Paul Marks

    Almost, but not quite, needless to say – the “Woke” movement is Frankfurt School Marxism and French Post Modernism (with a bit of “Pragmatist” Philosophy thrown in – sometimes).

    Critical Theory (including Critical Race Theory), Third Wave Feminism, radical Greenism (very fond of the stone circles constructed in Europe before this culture took over), the Trans Cult (especially when directed at CHILDREN – as Mr Biden supports), it can all be summed up by……

    “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civilisation has got to go!”

    It is unfortunate that most of Big Business supports the extermination of Western Civilisation – even those big business types who KNOW the “Woke” Frankfurt School Marxist doctrines, feel they have to support them (for their own personal safety).

    Hence, for example, Mr Jeff Bezos supporting the Washington Post.

    In private Mr Bezos knows that what is pushed by his newspaper (and increasingly by Amazon itself) is evil and insane – but he supports it anyway, he thinks that if he throws lots of money at the left they will spare him.

    Mr Bezos is mistaken – they will not spare him (no matter how much money he throws at them), and he will find that out one day.

  • staghounds

    Never, ever tell why you hire, or fire, anyone if you possibly can avoid it.

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