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From #SXSW: Taking a closer look at Reddit

Reddit was front and center at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive Festival. Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, Gawker’s Adrian Chen and Skepchick’s Rebecca Watson sat on a panel to discuss Reddit’s “hive mind” under the title “It’s Reddit’s Web, We Just Live In It.”

Chen, Farhad and Watson spent the better part of an hour discussing some of the negative aspects of Reddit, a social network where users post topical links that are then voted up and down by other users, affecting visibility and status. Chen especially has reason to doubt the good intentions of the site after a much-publicized incident last year.

Chen has a long history with Reddit and its users. He revealed the identity of “Violentacrez” a prominent user of the site, citing inappropriate behavior that included posting pictures of teenage girls in a well-trafficked “subreddit” called “Jailbait.” His article received a lot of flack for “outing” a user — something that is taboo in Reddit culture.

On the Internet, the loudest voices are typically the most controversial, and Chen, Manjoo and Watson seemed to home in on that topic. Reddit’s “hive mind,” as it’s typically called, has the ability to hijack the platform — and the entire Internet in turn — in the name of free speech.

Alexis Ohanian, a founder of Reddit, was originally slated as to be member of the panel. But the panel ended up lacking anyone who supported Reddit’s definition of freedom of speech, which approaches the concept in the broadest sense. Anything goes.

One of the most intriguing parts of the panel occurred during the Q-and-A, where Reddit users were able to defend their platform. The first question came from Alan Schaaf, the founder of Imgur — a site that relies almost exclusively on Reddit for its traffic and Redditors for its content. Schaaf asked why the panel ignored so many of the good things that the site has accomplished.

Watson’s contention: “I think it’s crucial for [Reddit] to look at the problems in an honest and open way and try to address [them].”

As a Reddit user myself, this comment certainly made me think. Where does one draw the line around free speech? Is there a limit to what’s appropriate, or does the idea of a limit at all toe the line of Internet censorship? Does Reddit, a privately owned website, owe anyone an answer to these questions?

Schaaf’s response to Watson, “for a panel focused around Reddit, you should have had some Reddit users,” summed up the panel nicely.

Jeff Umbro is the Digital Marketing Manager at Goldberg McDuffie Communcations, a book publicity firm. He’s a two-time veteran of SXSW and you can follow him on twitter @jeffumbro. It’s also worth noting that he’s a frequent Vine user.