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Reddit Movies’ Inability to Handle Sexual Harassment and Abuse Stories Is Part of the Problem

As one of the web's most popular sites struggles to represent on Hollywood's biggest stories, it's become increasingly clear that the problem needs a fix they can't provide.

Update below. As Hollywood continues to grapple with the fallout from allegations of sexual harassment and abuse waged against some of its most biggest names — from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey — news outlets and moviegoers alike are struggling to comprehend the magnitude of the allegations and how they are already changing the cultural landscape. In one corner of the internet where movie news and fandom come together, the debate over how to filter such stories has reached a strange fever pitch, one that is also emblematic of much bigger problems.

Over on the Reddit page for all movie-centric coverage —the subreddit /r/movies — moderator “girafa” has issued a call to readers for their take on how the page and its mods should handle the onslaught of sexual harassment and abuse allegations currently pouring out of the industry. In short, they don’t know what to do, but their responses only further highlight the root issue of so many stories they’re struggling to keep at bay.

The post, entitled “We Need Your Help Regarding All of These Accusations,” is unexpectedly wide-ranging, noting that the thread “had articles of celebrity accusations in the past, over the years.” The poster writes that the “subreddits are designed to be about specific topics, and these stories objectively do not fit our criteria on a macro level.” As many Redditors see it, stories of harassment or abuse are “celeb gossip & drama” that belong elsewhere, not on a space dedicated to movies, which is why they’ve been using filters to weed out such stories from appearing on the page. It’s like they don’t exist, or at least they don’t impact movies in general.

For many of us, that is no longer a tenable position to hold. When the first big wave of allegations against Weinstein first hit the news just over a month ago, it was still unclear how stories would impact Weinstein and the industry. They weren’t necessarily new, either when it came to Weinstein specifically or to Hollywood at large, but the climate has changed so much (and so rapidly) over the years that the stories in both the New York Times and the New Yorker did what was once impossible: They changed the conversation. They allowed more accusers to feel comfortable coming forward with stories, many of them finally understanding that they would be heard and believed, and they pushed the industry and its consumers alike to recognize that something needed to change.

First, however, it must be recognized. As “girafa” writes, “If we allowed every article and story about these accusations this wouldn’t be /r/movies anymore, it would be dominated by scandal submissions. We moderators aren’t interested in reviewing scandal articles, we’re here to moderate movie news.” Moreover, the poster argues that “the moderators I’ve spoken with just wish to God this was someone else’s problem. Reading these stories is upsetting for so many reasons, and the guilty parties absolutely deserve to have their names dragged through the mud.”

Willfully wanting to push away this kind of news because it’s uncomfortable isn’t helping anyone. Ignoring the biggest story impacting Hollywood — and, yes, movies — because there are simply too many stories to weed through and it’s painful to do so is ignorant, weak, and laughably simplistic. Hiding what’s happening? That’s how we got to this place to begin with, and it will no longer stand.

The /r/movies subreddit on Reddit is home to one of the site’s most robust communities — over 16.7M subscribers and counting — and it also hosts many of the site’s popular AMAs (ask me anythings) with major stars. It often includes sponsored posts from huge companies (even the post asking for guidance is technically “brought to you by DC Comics”). It’s how many film fans get their news and information, interact with other fans, and learn about the industry and culture. While Reddit is literally built on a platform of curation, that doesn’t absolve it from doing so responsibly.

Interestingly enough, Reddit’s /r/television page has not similarly moderated these stories. The current front page of /r/television includes stories about allegations made against Steven Seagal, Kevin Spacey, Jeffrey Tambor, and Ed Westwick, and that’s just the start. They haven’t run from the stories and the scandals, or billed them as unrelated to their subject, better suited for the gossip pages. They’re part of the conversation.

In that same help-us-with-this post “girafa” notes, “There is no compromise: if we allow one accusation story in /r/movies we must allow them all.” But the /r/movies team has already compromised, rolling out a new subreddit under the heading “/r/MovieScandals,” specifically built to handle these stories. (Its name alone brings to mind this viral tweet, further highlighting the tone-deaf nature of the entire endeavor.) That may seem like a reasonable compromise, and it’s too early to really assess if it could make a difference — but so far, it’s not working.

As of this writing, the new subreddit includes just three stories: a new allegation against Jeremy Piven, a Variety piece about Jon Bernthal’s experience with Kevin Spacey on the set of “Baby Driver” and a roundup that includes links to stories about Robert Knepper, Steven Seagal, Charlie Sheen, and Jeffery Tambor (that piece does include a note that from r/movies moderator “girafa” that the post is “envision[ed as] a daily update for those interested, crossposted to /r/movies“). It’s a shockingly slim selection, and it hardly seems like the spillover solution that the /r/movies team was hoping for.

Even some Redditors aren’t happy with the choice, as many responded to the original post asking for a “megathread” of the topic to live on the /r/movies page, while others were more clear that new subreddits on such subjects are wear important discussions go to die.

One writes: “It’s hard to expect any sizeable number of people will willingly move over to a new or much smaller sub to talk, at least not without a contingent sticking around here hijacking threads with accusations or claiming mod abuse.” Another poster adds: “Trying to break off important news like this into its own subreddit changes the audience drastically and gives the subject its own graveyard to die.”

But at least one of them gets it, writing: “So you want to take nearly all discussion about the largest Hollywood news – arguably ever – and stick it all on a brand new sub or sub with 300,000 instead of a sub with 16,000,000 called /r/movies. Get your heads out of your asses.”

And get back to the conversation, because ignoring it no longer works. Sexual harassment isn’t tangential to conversations about the movies; it is actively changing the way we talk about the world in which they’re made, and how we process the final product. That’s a discussion worthy of front page treatment, on Reddit and everywhere else.

Update: A moderator on /r/movies who wishes to remain anonymous reached out to respond to our story, and provided a statement that reads in part:

“In the past this has worked because these stories were rare and generally relegated to the legal process or rumor. I am extremely happy (yet of course deeply disturbed by all the terrible people in the industry) that this feels like an actual legitimate shift in the way not just Hollywood but all industries discuss sexual assault and harassment. It disgusts me to remove these stories because of our rules and I am sickened that I’m in any way culpable of keeping these stories quiet. Here’s the debate we as the mod team have been having since Weinstein: all or nothing. The simple truth is there is no way to make a dividing line of what counts as newsworthy in this at all…

“We are truly trying to figure this out. We never want the sub to devolve in witchhunts, become another arm for the alt right, nor do we want to be the place where we silence voices. We are trying new avenues of addressing this while trying to keep everyone safe. Allowing everything opens a floodgate we can’t control, and all the good and bad that will pour through. Our attempts are on-going and will continue in the future. We want to hear from everyone and we always want to make the subreddit a better place.”

The moderator also noted that the /r/movies subreddit has just today tested a new approach to handling these allegations, posting a new megathread about Louis C.K. that you can view here.

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