• Published 13 April, 2018

If Facebook is where people go to project a preferred image of themselves, Reddit is where the raw discussion happens.

Or happened.

Reddit is making some dramatic changes to what it’s allowing on its forums; and whether they are good or bad probably differs according to your politics.

This week, 944 “suspicious accounts” were banned from Reddit for alleged connections to a notorious Russian troll farm.

A troll farm - or a web brigade - is a large scale group who create conflict and spread disinformation on the web by posting inflammatory or provocative comments on forums.

Sometimes they are state-sponsored.

The vast majority of this week’s banned accounts had zero karma - a measure of how much the community values their input - while only 1% had a karma score of above 10,000.

Reddit is trying to clean up its act a lot at the moment; notably after receiving a $US200 million venture capital injection last July.

Figures from last year show the number of people who visit at least once a month has jumped to 310 million, up from 160 million two years prior to that.

But as people gloss over the sadder parts of their lives on The Facebook and The Instagram, Reddit was the place for some old fashioned realtalk.

Banning subreddits

That’s why the recent banning of most darknet market-related subreddits gave those of us with a libertarian bent a bit of a twitch.

For a long time, r/DarkNetMarkets was a place where drug dealers, hackers, criminals, police, journalists and just people would hang out and talk about what happened on illicit marketplaces.

The darknet is generally characterised by its anonymised access thanks to a Tor or I2P browser.

Some might argue there's something exciting about actually being anonymous on the internet.

That said, these darknet forums were always touchy because they were definitely discussing illegal things.

Definitely illegal

The prevalence of cyber-arms, weapons, counterfeit currency, enormous credit card dumps, forged documents, unlicensed pharmaceuticals and human trafficking was up for debate on Reddit and, boy, did people debate.

It was a fascinating insight into the unbridled supply-demand mechanisms that control an unregulated marketplace.

Before the subreddit was closed it had almost 160,000 readers.

Reddit is also systematically banning subreddits that have anything to do with illegal activity; including a harm reduction subreddit for heroin users and a slew of city-specific safe networks for sex workers.

Regardless of how you feel about what should be discussed online, it is kind of a shame that years of extremely rich human behavioural data and analysis of dark market evolution can be wiped out in one day.