Yesterday, I ran a Q&A I did with the founder of the woman-focused subreddit TwoXChromosomes. As of a few weeks ago, TwoXChromosomes became a default subreddit, meaning it is one of the subreddits new users are autmatically subscribed to. Pageviews immediately exploded for the forum, as did an influx of harrassment from users not enamored of a forum devoted to womens' perspectives. Though the forum's founder framed the change as one that will eventually be a positive one, when my Q&A was posted to the forum itself, it was met with a very different reception.
Several users were asking for the mods of TwoXChromosomes to remove it as a default subreddit. I asked for users to email me comments about why they didn't like the change, but I only heard from one user who asked not to be identified. This is what she had to say about my Q&A:
When the news of the default status hit, many users were dismayed that we would lose our 'safe space.' While I do think it was a little naive to believe TwoX was a safe space in the first place, I agreed with many of the threads suggesting stricter rules/options for posting in TwoX (such as adding a new 'sidebar' rule or gendered 'flair' options). If TwoX is going to provide a "voice for women" on the internet, then the moderators need to make sure our voice isn't drowned out by the "concern trolls" or undermined by the men's rights activists. In my opinion, it is not enough for the moderators to simply delete the really over-the-top inappropriate comments. The moderators need to also keep the community a little bit in check and remind people from time to time that it's a subreddit intended for women's perspectives. Men are certainly welcome to post, but it is not really appropriate to question and second-guess everything.
Unfortunately, the mods have mostly ignored those types of suggestions, and I've found that every single conversation I now have on TwoX devolves into a justification of my experience as a woman. For example, I was immediately questioned when I shared my frustration with being talked down to as a female software developer. A red piller felt the need to inform me that, based on his knowledge of software development, I was probably experiencing totally normal condescension in my field and that gender has nothing to do with it. Sure, he got heavily downvoted, but these are the types of conversations I end up having all the time now. When I PMed the mods about my concern over these types of users who obviously have nothing to contribute to the community, I was told they would continue to keep an eye on such users. The user I was specifically talking about did not receive any warning or ban, and he continued to post disruptive comments in TwoX until he apparently deleted his account a day ago.
I think this comment from a (male!) user on TwoX really hits the nail on the head. There is possibly some hope in making TwoX a default subreddit, but the moderators really need to be stricter if they want the community to truly be a place for women's perspectives. At this point, I'm personally sick of trying to educate people whose mind is already closed off.
On a final note, I'm also unhappy about the number of nasty and threatening PMs I receive from 'throwaway' accounts. However, I realize there's not much the mods can really do about them, and I guess I will continue to ignore them. I sort of suspect the so-called "trolls" would get bored of lurking around TwoX for users to harass if the sub were more strictly moderated, but that's just a hunch.
Her criticisms of the move make sense. Community on the internet is hard to come by, and it is fragile. A huge shift in numbers or demographic can cause connections that have been built over months or years to break down, and it can be heartbreaking to watch places that were once your homes on the internet turn into something else entirely. I speak from experience.
It does seem as though becoming a default sub has made the TwoXChromosomes a target for an unprecedented wave of harassment, which, according to moderator High Fructose Corn feces, users should just ignore. But repeated threats of rape, which have been well documented since the switch, are incredibly unpleasant. And it's not so easy for people who deal with psychological triggers to just ignore them.
Unfortunately, the same openness that makes the harassment hard to contain also makes the userbase hard to poll about whether they would like the subreddit removed from the defaults. So for now, the mods are hoping to weather the storm of new and crappy behavior and hope the subreddit grows into a bigger, but still hospitable place for discussion. I guess time will tell.