I’ll never forget my total and complete misunderstanding of Reddit policy.
Yes, once upon a time, I got shadow-banned on Reddit for being an evil and pernicious spammer. But, in my defense, I had never been on Reddit before, didn’t understand its unique sub-culture, and frankly had a very different understanding of what actually constituted spam.
You see, my understanding of spam was content that was uninvited, off-topic, and often involved some sort of solicitation. Reddit adds to the definition pretty much anything that could be considered self-promotion.
So, anyone who’s familiar with Reddit probably has a good idea of what happened. With a freshly created, zero karma Reddit profile, I went to the r/politics subreddit and posted a link to a blog article I had written (this was before their seemingly impenetrable white list). And, of course, the “front page of the internet” found the time to smack a lowly blog writer out of Reddit existence.
While Reddit is perhaps the most militant social media website when it comes to this sort of thing, it’s a pretty typical approach across the board. Self-promotion is considered spammy, looked down upon, and often silenced to one extent or another.
And while I’m the first to recognize that over-the-top self-promotion is highly nauseating, the whole approach bothered me. The more I thought about it, the more it actually started to frustrate me. I’ll tell you why.
On Reddit specifically, if I had copied and pasted the blog article and published it as a post, everything would have been fine. It’s the same on most other social media sites. Short-posts, long-posts, comments, gifs, memes…you name it you can post it, and it usually won’t be considered spam as long as it stays on the site (even if it’s off-topic or uninvited, that’s just trolling).
So, is the goal here to police quality, keep things on topic, or even to actually cut down on the self-promotion? Or is it to police external links and keep the conversation from going to a different site? It seems to me the status quo is designed so that Social Media sites get your intellectual content on their site for free, their SEO boosted off your creativity for free, and their website promoted across the internet for the freely-submitted content of its users.
You see, as a writer, I see the written word as having both extrinsic and intrinsic value. It takes time and effort to create something that’s actually worth reading. But Social Media, whether purposely or not, has created a modern scenario where the value of the written word has decreased dramatically.
Not only has Social Media convinced its users to offer their insights and content for free in exchange for what usually only amounts to internal relevance, but, when the reward is often little more than likes and shares (a reflexive and often emotional response), we become disincentivized to create substantive content.
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This is why local newspapers are failing, journalists are out of work, and news sites often devolve into click-bait factories. This is why modern society, with more information at its fingertips than the greatest libraries in history, has devolved into online troll wars and swamps of fake news and misinformation. It’s also why writers like me have to hold down day jobs even if we manage to create really good content that stands above the fray.
The worth of the written word is almost down to nothing because no one stops to think about whether it might be worth something before they add it to a Social Media website’s intellectual domain for absolutely nothing. Worse, someone who takes the effort to make a website, polish their writing into an actual intellectual product, and invites others to explore something thoughtful and substantive is just a self-promoting spammer.
Frankly, I can’t help but think society might be a better place if the ire was directed at the swamp-dwelling trolls, the meme brigades, and the purveyors of fake news instead of the honest entrepreneurs who have no idea they’re about to get shadow-banned on Reddit for daring to try and own the value of their own content.
This article is originally from a segment of From the Hawk’s Nest, Justin Stapley’s bi-weekly newsletter.
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