Ian Malcolm Explains How Banning Sub-Reddits Will Lead To The Eventual Regulation of the Entire Internet And Global Chaos

Note: I originally wrote this in June of 2015, around the time of the whole Reddit/Ellen Pao controversy. It still seems apropos—so much so, that I’m republishing it here.

Some time ago, I predicted exactly what is happening with Reddit now, with their subreddits that have been deemed offensive being removed and the resultant freakout.

This post is not to condemn or support or to give any moral/ethical/ideological “verdict” on the subreddit bans—but merely to continue to project a possible outcome from all this.

Here goes:

1. Reddit will do a continuing “purge” of offending subreddits.

2. Reddit is probably also flagging/shadow-banning a HUGE amount of users connected to the subreddits and posts they find offensive. This is all being done, ultimately, because they are “cleaning up” and optimizing the site for greater monetization.

3. Reddit is probably changing other key elements of their site, including terms of service, how to register, subreddit approvals, etc. This entire process was probably planned out way in advance & had/has multiple interlocking steps. Because the only way Reddit can truly keep out content that its management deems offensive is by changing fundamental elements of how the site operates. And so they are basically “locking out” these people via a multi-step process that was planned in advance.

4. As this all goes on, angry Reddit users continue to flood the site with offending material in protest, which only then serves to further “justify” Reddit’s new policies and functionalities. Reddit can say “we can’t moderate this tsunami of offensive protest material the way things are now, we need to further change how we operate.” This was all also probably anticipated in advance by Reddit management/consultants.

5. Angry/banned Reddit users go to new site or sites which have “anything goes” policies and might not even be under the jurisdiction of various governments or whatever. Unlike the whole of Reddit, these sites will probably be “stacked” towards specific political/ideological views.

Without the moderating influence of alternative viewpoints as in the original Reddit model—as well as operating in an “everything goes” scenario—these sites will become highly-concentrated ideological nexus-points with an increasing desire for “real-world” political activism and influence.

6. And so these post-Reddit sites will create the Next Step I see coming in terms of Internet trends, which is “real-world” activism and political influence stemming from ideologically-driven websites on both the far right and far left as well as the “libertarian” potpourri.

The sites do not just “influence,” but actually become the political movements, the loci of “activism”—the arbiters of group-determined “justice” in the “real world.” What was once a loose confederation of mutual thinkers becomes new political parties. And these new movements will probably not have a national identity but will be global.

This, to me, is the paradox regarding kicking out the offensive subreddits. It’s chaos theory in practice, ultimately. Removing the offensive subreddits will, in the end, create an even greater and more unstoppable forum for this type of material.

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7. And what happens after that…after a few years of this…is that the governments (largely in “tandem,” because now they feel their sovereignty threatened) move to “regulate” the Internet, citing concerns such as “terrorism,” etc. And so you see the Reddit thing re-cycle, only this time it’s not Reddit but the entire damn Internet.

And what happens after that?

It just keeps going, just another level up.

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And yeah, I think the Internet—or, more specifically, certain functions of it like social media and the tracking of personal data—is definitely the Jurassic Park in this equation.

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I’ve had my ass handed to me by Internet lynch-mobs on the Right and Left before…and so maybe it would seem that banning subreddits—especially ones that target others—might be the solution. But it won’t. Because:

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The one thing that has continued to strike me as I have observed the evolution of these online groups and communities  (as well as just social media in general) over the last ten years is how we are inexorably moving down this path where this online discourse BECOMES our real-world reality. IMPACTS our real-world reality. Is inextricably and inescapably connected to our real-world reality.

And banning this or that is not going to change it.
This is something in motion that has a life of its own.

And as much as I started out being this person who stupidly went on the Internet, had opinions, and got my ass handed to me…now I’m just fascinated by the entire scope of the thing. I’m like:

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Our future is going to be weirder than we can possibly conceive of. The “neckbeards” and “SJWs” of today are the political parties, activists, and even “nations” of the future—global in scope, outside the purview of what we consider to be traditional government.

And so what is happening with Reddit now is a template for what will probably happen with the Internet as a whole—or at least, what will be attempted. A “clean up” of the Internet, conducted ostensibly in the interest of Progress, fairness, kindness—but with motives that are not completely altruistic.

Because the truth is…the “wild west”/”democratizing” aspect of the Internet cuts into the bottom line of governments and corporations. And the best thing that ever happened to these entities are people on Reddit arguing for “free speech” while posting a tsunami of offensive material in protest…leading to more “extremist” behavior…leading to the “need” for greater controls on the Internet…

…which, of course, then leads to MORE extremism, and so on and so on.

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Lastly, to those on each ideological side of this and other debates…be wary of the fact that sometimes you might be acting as Useful Idiots for other interests…super-easily manipulated by

a) fake accounts

b) pre-fabricated “news”

c) orchestrated online “outrages”

d) internet pundits pushing propaganda for others

e) and corporate/government agendas

In the end, waking up to these possibilities will probably not stop the spiral of what is to come—but it might save a spot in the JP utility jeep for you to hang out and not get eaten by a velociraptor.

I’ll see you there.

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Postscript: I am not saying that there are not situations where things have gotten so out of control that a website has no choice than to ban, remove content, etc. BUT: I am saying, that because of the larger sociological playing field the website has by default agreed to both participate in/encourage, the described “chaos spiral” is likely to result regardless. In short, “lose/lose.”