Reddit's Anti-Spamming Policy is Counterproductive

Update: Looks like I got banned from Reddit for posting this. That makes me sad. In the mid-to-late aughts...

Matthew Gertner - Founder & CEO

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Update: Looks like I got banned from Reddit for posting this. That makes me sad.

In the mid-to-late aughts, when I was last blogging regularly, I would hustle by any means necessary to get my posts read and grow my RSS subscriber base. It was immensely satisfying when I finally built a big enough audience to feel confident that when I wrote something good, it would be read, discussed and disseminated.

When I recently decided to get serious about blogging again, I was faced with a quandary: how do I get anyone to read my posts now that RSS is dead? After giving Reddit a try, I concluded it was the perfect vehicle: a meritocracy with a massive audience, segmented by interest into specialized communities. I could submit my posts to r/programming or r/technology and they would sink or swim according to their quality (and the catchiness of their title). Even my less successful posts got some engagement, and a few downvotes and a snarky comment or two are still better than feeling like you are blogging impotently into the void.

Then something funny happened. My posts stop getting any engagement at all. No upvotes, no downvotes, no comments (snarky or otherwise). It took me embarrassingly long to realize that I had been shadowbanned for spamming. My offense? Submitting only posts from my own blog and not from a variety of sources.

According to the Reddit FAQs:

It's not strictly forbidden to submit a link to a site that you own or otherwise benefit from in some way, but you should sort of consider yourself on thin ice... If over 10% of your submissions and conversation are your own site/content/affiliate links, you're almost certainly a spammer.

Before I continue, let me say one thing loud and clear: I love Reddit! I honestly don't know if without it I would have had the motivation to continue blogging actively. But I think this spamming policy is deeply misguided. (Stack Overflow karma croesus Bozhidar Bozhanov made substantially the same point the other day.)

The intention of the anti-spamming provisions is clear. It is hard enough to wade through all the new submissions on a popular subreddit. No one wants some narcissistic marketing drone amping up the noise level by carpet-bombing the new submissions page with vapid self-promotional content.

Better known writers don't have a problem since they can be confident that someone will submit their stuff to Reddit and Hacker News for them. But what about folks like me and Bozho who write maybe one or two thoughtful posts a week but don't have a huge built-in audience? Who is actually harmed if we submit our own posts to the appropriate subreddit? On the contrary, the community is well-served by having access to less well-known but potentially high-quality content from a wider range of sites.

What's more, the anti-spamming cure is clearly worse than the disease. After sweet-talking a moderator into unbanning me, I've been compelled to submit articles to various subreddits even if I wouldn't otherwise be inclined to do so, just so I can keep the ratio of my own posts down. I don't submit total crap, but this still doesn't seem like a great way to maximize submission quality. It is actually really hard to find outstanding fresh content that hasn't already been submitted to a popular site like Reddit by someone else. It is better to do so opportunistically when you stumble across it than to lower your standards in order to conform to an artificial quota.

In any case, Reddit has a much better mechanism for combatting spam: its excellent moderation system. Why not ban people who consistently submit shoddy links, as evidenced by a preponderance of downvotes? This seems a much better mechanism for combatting spam than reinforcing the tyranny of power-law politics by locking out small independent bloggers who take the initiative to submit their own well-received posts.

Matthew Gertner - Founder & CEO

Matt is a veteran British/American software engineer who has founded several technology companies.

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