Turning inner space into outer space

July 18, 2015

Online forums could learn from apartment building managers

Lower East Side tenements in New York City

Years ago, when I lived in an apartment building, I was awakened in the middle of the night by someone playing loud music.

I mentioned this to the manager, and he said he would look into it. The next day, he told me that the tenant who disturbed me was being evicted.

I thought this was pretty harsh for one minor incident, and told him so. But his answer was a good one, and it has stuck with me to this day: If you don’t get rid of the bad tenants, then the good ones will leave and you’ll have nothing left but bad tenants.

Employees tasked with running online forums or policing website comment sections know all too well how true this is. If you don’t weed out the trolls and spammers, everyone else shies away and you’re left with a toxic stew not worth saving.

I was reminded of that when I read about Reddit’s solution for its forums devoted to racism and misogyny: don’t ban them, just hide them. So CoonTown and its ilk are thriving with more members than ever, emboldened by tacit approval from Reddit management.

Supposedly, they’ll be harder to find, but if you know what you’re looking for, a search engine will have no trouble ferreting them out.

So what would Reddit look like if it were an apartment building? Maybe the downstairs suites would be blocked off with doors that didn’t have signs on them. You could go down there, but likely wouldn’t because of the thought of it would make your skin crawl.

It sounds like a horror movie: the house with the basement and the horrible crimes that were committed there. I just finished reading a book where one of the characters was accidentally exposed to a movie like that as a baby, and suffered from nightmares well into adulthood.

Sometimes I fear that much of the Internet suffers from the Reddit syndrome. Loud-mouthed louts shout everyone else down, and the promise of open discourse becomes a shattered dream.

I’ve talked to many people who already avoid social media because they don’t want to expose themselves to negativity. To me, their fears seem overblown. Still, the same could be said of neighbourhoods that have bad reputations. They may in fact be not so bad once you get to know them — but perceptions are hard to change once they become established.

I’ve taken jabs at Facebook for its computer algorithms that promote happy-face news. You can see why they do it, though. Facebook is the apartment building where middle-class tenants feel safe, and more keep moving in all the time.

There are some great forums in Reddit that attempt to be helpful. If Reddit turns into a tenement, those are be the parts that will missed.