After eight years on the Internet, the Reddit community has gained massive influence. The collective group of a quarter billion users not only runs its own subdomain on Reddit but the discussion site’s news-generating algorithms and ranks almost every post on the site in order of popularity.

For any given topic, there are hundreds of discussions happening about it, even if only a few people are talking. Today’s most popular forums can get heated. Comment threads can go for several days. The comments on a post are read by an internal system designed to weed out spam, which flagrantly overwhelms comments.

To me, that’s part of the thrill of Reddit, that the spark of curiosity can continue to feedback and forth for days or weeks on end, even on a seemingly dumb or boring topic.

The simple premise of Reddit is the greatest reaction to a dumb or boring topic of all: the largest number of people discussing a topic together. The “subreddit” model is how it works. A person might run a Reddit forum for cats, but it would be a subreddit. For the most part, every subreddit only allows a limited number of people to join. And instead of advertising your community, you usually have to apply. When someone is added to a subreddit, they usually gain a level of recognition by becoming one of the community’s moderators, who can choose what is displayed in the subforum and how comments should be moderated. Reddit also has traditional forums—which often serve a different purpose, from broadcasting news to providing support for a cause—and user-generated communities, which are tools for sharing photos or art.

With all that power, Reddit has grown to become a hive of culture. One person’s memes are another person’s moments of quiet self-reflection. People have used Reddit as a platform to organize for political protest, and the many subreddits that cover autism can be just as contentious as most communities on the Internet.

It would be difficult to overstate the power of a community that thousands of people gather around and in which all of that power is used to unite in a single purpose. It is unlikely that someone could think of the same quirky, self-deprecating, important thing each day that people on Reddit are posting because there are hundreds of thousands of users in the community at any given time.

It seems in many ways that the Reddit community is a reflection of itself. There is the community of punks who also love anime and have lots of cats; the Internet celebrity who also is into farm animals and Star Wars. A Reddit user whose own self-deprecating posts on a site that already has something about self-deprecation is doing something in the thread is a huge hit.

But there are also signs that not everything is going to plan for Reddit, and that the social network is trying to evolve. Several days ago, there was a movement on Reddit to silence bad actors in the community. Reddit moderators banned certain kinds of content, including subreddits about racism and politics. Reddit is a private company, and its users can’t vote down changes made to the site. The moderators’ use of the banned content was considered controversial, but Reddit hasn’t taken a stance on it.

When someone was banned from Reddit for sharing a post calling the Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, “the worst movie ever,” some members of the Reddit community felt that the company was attacking free speech.

“By posting and making the case that this film was universally derided by both fans and critics, you helped the film’s ratings climb and made it more visible on that date,” one of the users who received a ban wrote in a note explaining his reasons for getting banned. “In turn, that exposure helped make the film a much more profitable venture for Warner Bros, making it a more worthwhile and commercially successful venture for them. In fact, I have been told by a very good source with inside information on Warner Bros.’ fiscal health that it was that one user who posted about the film that really tanked their bottom line.”

There was a flood of posts on the site defending the moderator’s decision, although at least one moderator defended the decision to ban the post, too. “Every site has a ‘base.’ There’s a place for rants, there’s a place for contrarianism, and there’s a place for sharing some truly fantastic fan art,” said the moderator in a post on Reddit. “This user was not only subverting these threads for the sake of growing his own brand and gaining notoriety, but he was also, and still is, posting every single day on multiple subreddits.”

If Reddit is going to become the Internet town square, it is going to need to find ways to balance out its community’s sometimes aggressively dissenting, sarcastic, silly, and occasionally divisive nature. Finding the right balance has been difficult, however, as comments on the site are not always the same as they are on other social networks, and there is a lot of opinion and creativity in the space.

Because of that, it would be surprising if Reddit’s solution wasn’t very similar to the one it has already adopted. The hope seems to be that by driving out some of the anonymous trolls, it will be able to create a community where genuine conversation can occur and that people will be comfortable sharing ideas in a medium that allows for free expression.

The plan to ban some politically-themed groups was greeted with skepticism and even vitriol by some.

“Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences,” wrote Reddit user PriInjecton. “Go fuck yourself.”

Reddit is also adding a feature to make it easier for people to switch to another of its thousands of communities if they don’t like the one they are in. The idea is to give new users a chance to understand the community before they decide to create their own posts and comments.

The Reddit community has always been a funny one, and even the company itself acknowledged that fact on Monday, saying, “Reddit has a famously rough and tumble comment section, and the audience makes it difficult to censor ‘trolls’ outright. However, we do remove content that’s posted to Reddit that we know violates our Terms of Service or community guidelines.”

And the company also said it is going to keep on cracking down on hate speech and harassment on its site, acknowledging that it may not be able to “restrict everyone to the same standard.”

“‘Hate speech’ has a very broad meaning, and we need to be vigilant in policing that while protecting free expression,” wrote Reddit CEO Steve Huffman. “In general, the ability to say unpopular things online is an essential part of our ethos.”

In the long term, however, Reddit may need to look beyond preventing its content from showing up on sites like 8chan to ensure that it isn’t completely ground to a halt by the rise of its own trolls.

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