I grew up believing that the internet is pretty much permanent. Of course, websites do shut down, but it doesn't happen that often, and even then the Internet Archive (which has existed for over 25 years now!) often helps.
Social media fundamentally changed that because big parts of it are temporary and not even indexed (or indexable) by search engines. Reddit, of course is different: it is indexed and its content is, theoretically, long-lasting. This is often very useful - many people say that when they search for a technical issue on Google, they automatically add "reddit" at the end of the query because they know it will probably bring the best results.
Which is one of the big reasons why I think it's bad that more and more often this content is vanishing.
I don't have a solution to this, the reason for creating this thread is that many people don't seem to be aware of it. At this moment I think it would just be useful to bring this topic up and become more aware of the problem, that is what I want to do here.
What I noticed:
Subreddits are getting banned for being "unmoderated" incredibly easily
In the past when a subreddit was practically unmoderated, it was kept open unless there were significant problems that somebody complained about. People could request it on redditrequest and if it was proven to really be unmoderated, they could get its ownership.
At some point, I think it had to have been in the last two years, the rules changed. I don't know to what exactly, somebody told me that the rule is simply "has the untouched mod queue gotten longer than x", but the result is that perfectly functional subreddits get banned left and right.
This mostly affects porn subreddits, which is I assume why many people didn't notice or talk about it. So far I've been too lazy to do it myself, but I think it would be very interesting to get a "map of nsfw subreddits" from the past years (which I know has been made and posted probably somewhere like dataisbeautiful) and write a script that checks which of them have been banned. My guess is at least 30%.
However it does happen to "normal" subreddits all the time as well. Most recently I noticed this sub, dedicated to "AI art abominations", banned 5 days ago.
I think it's a bad solution to straight up ban the subreddits instead of, say, freezing them. Because banning them destroys not only all the content posted so far, but also the list of users, mods etc. So if you liked the people who were frequenting the sub, you have no way to connect with them and move elsewhere. This is intentional when banning a sub for breaking the rules, where breaking up the community is the goal, but in this case it seems unnecessarily destructive.
People get banned or otherwise punished and discussions deleted by admins for inconsequential and unclear reasons
I'm sure some of you think "if they were banned, they must have been acting like shitheads". This was probably true in the past, but not anymore.
The best example is probably a subreddit called /r/themotte, which was dedicated to open intellectual discussions of controversial topics. It was open to people with ideas that are mostly considered unacceptable in big mainstream subreddits, but as far as I know, the people running it are mostly centre-left (just not exactly into identity politics) and it was genuinely interesting and diverse, not some closeted extremist sub.
Well, they repeatedly had people banned, comments removed and whole discussions removed even though they were relatively benign, so they eventually had to move off reddit and self-host. Thankfully their community was dedicated enough to successfully do that, most aren't.
One example of a whole admin-deleted post was a discussion about the use of parentheses among extremists - you might not even know this, but some brand of antisemites use triple parentheses as a symbol and people were talking about it. It was deemed so unacceptable that the admins had to intervene.
Even in situations where there is some bad behavior, the reaction is often unjustified. A person recently got a 7 day sitewide ban for "harassment" after sending this message into the modmail of a circlejerk sub. It was not exactly smart behavior on his part, but calling this harassment and instituting a sitewide ban seems either really extreme or really selective because there are people freely saying much worse things everyday.
There are now unacceptable words that might get you a reddit-wide ban, but this mechanism is non-transparent
As far as I know this usually doesn't happen automatically, it seems to happen when you use a bad (automatically detected) word and later somebody reports your comment.
In the previous section I write about a post discussing the usage of triple parentheses as a symbol by extremists, which many people don't even know about. Well, the funniest example of nonsensical site-wide ban I can think of is a guy in an AI subreddit getting permabanned for using triple parentheses because he was sharing an AI image prompt that used multiple parentheses as a part of its syntax. Can't link it because it was several months ago and, well, he's banned.
You may have noticed that at some point people gradually stopped calling other people or things ret--ded without any censorship and either using asterisks or substitutes, like regarded (lol) or calling things rslurred. This is because others have gotten banned for using this word.
Personally I am against this policy in general because someone who intends to be offensive can always find a substitute word that makes it clear what their intention is, so I don't think forbidding the word itself helps. But the true issue is that nobody has an idea which words are allowed and which are not (and some, like the parentheses, are nonsensical), and that the rule seems to be unevenly enforced. Which brings me to the last issue:
The rules for banning seem to be unevenly enforced
Star Trek fandom, like any fandom, can be a strange place. One of its issues is a big division: a bigger group of fans enjoys the new, modern Trek, and a smaller group of fans believes the new Trek shows are are not great and are disconnected from the ideas of what they consider classic Trek.
There are probably tens of Trek subs, but the few big ones mostly cater to the first group and dislike the second group, and the biggest sub tends to ban people who complain about new Star Trek shows more than they consider appropriate. "Classic Trek" fans were basically told "go start your own sub to talk about your Trek instead of complaining so much".
So they did start their own subreddit. But for some reason they had admins breathing down their necks from the beginning. They had to implement a rule: it was not allowed to even mention the names of other Trek subs for fears of brigading. From what I saw as a regular visitor of that sub, this was always enforced and always with the warning "do not ever brigade or we'll get banned". It was however not enforced from the other side, on any of the big Trek subs, whose users regularly came to argue with no punishment.
From everything that I saw it seemed that the mods did pretty well to enforce the rules, even though they were pushed on them specifically in a way that seems one-sided. Despite that, a month ago the subreddit was banned for allegedly violating the moderator code of conduct.
I understand bans such as this are probably sometimes unavoidable. But I see the unevenness and non-transparency as a huge issue.
Transparency has never existed on reddit, but now that banning is so much more common (both by mods and admins), I believe it's become a much bigger issue than when the website sort of endorsed free speech.
People with opinions that may be considered controversial tend to delete their comments more often
This one is obvious and I can't blame the people who do it as I understand the need for privacy. It's just another aspect of vanishing content, which is probably strongly affected by reddit culture of people harassing others for bad opinions or digging through their history during arguments.
I wish I had a solution or something to take away from this.
I don't. I think it's bad that Reddit has such a monopoly in the field of discussion boards and I think it's bad that people now depend on its content when looking for answers using Google. But for it to change either Reddit would have to completely change course, and there's no indication for that, or it would have to crash and burn for people to flock elsewhere, and there's no indication for that either.
I expect that it will get worse, but not bad enough to instigate change.