Reddit’s Ask Historians is a Perfect Example of the Flaws of User-Generated Content

A week ago I published an article discussing how programmatic advertising enables user-generated content platforms to earn revenue and how it’s making the world a darker place. It’s not an opinion I am alone in; former high ranking reddit employee, Dan McComas, has also written an article titled “I Fundamentally Believe That My Time at Reddit Made the World a Worse Place“.

This post is going to illuminate another way in which user-generated content platforms like reddit make our world a worse place to live.

You may not know this about me, but I’m a huge history buff. I’ve always loved learning about those from the past because I believe an accurate understanding of our past helps explain our present, and gives us insight into our future. I’ve even written an Encyclopedia of Legendary Artifacts as a resource for those wanting to do research into myths and legends spanning across human cultures and throughout history.

So it should come as no surprise I like to populate places where history is discussed. One of the large forums these days is a subreddit called Ask Historians.

Today I discovered a thread asking a great question about the latter half of the Western Roman Empire. You can find the remaining thread here. 

This is the important highlights.

Notice any problems here?

Largely the post is okay….It’s not until the last few sentences that a distorted version of history begins to get pushed; the idea the Roman Senate continued into the time of Charlemagne.

It absolutely did not; the title of Senator had changed substantially by this point to merely be an honorific among certain nobility. No actual senatorial offices existed in Italy and no voting ever took place on anything by these “Senators”. Nor was there an independent legislative body called ‘the Senate’ by the time of Pope Leo III and Charlemagne.

Pope Leo III also did not crown Charlemagne because he was losing “Roman aristocratic support” but rather because Rome needed the military might of the Franks to defend itself against Muslim raids into Italy, and the Eastern Roman Empress Irene of Athens did not have sufficient military power to do this anymore.

So it is a significant distortion of history to suggest somehow Pope Leo III needed Frankish assistance to remain Pope because he had lost support from a non-existent Roman Senate. I suspect this claim of historical revisionism is made to avoid acknowledging the historical reality; that the Franks were repelling Islamic attempts to conquer Europe because the military might of the Franks far surpassed that of the Muslim forces attempting to invade.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen historical distortionism related to the Carologians. The Battle of Tours (generaled by Charlemagne’s grandfather, Charles Martel), is universally accepted by scholars as a crucial milestone in European history, but is often presented as a minor skirmish by Islamic scholars if they mention it at all in their version of European history (source: Lewis, Bernard (1994). Islam and the West. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509061-6) .

It’s problematic for the message when your supposedly divine army advancing into Europe on God’s command gets slaughtered by barbarian heathens in such a way the victor only loses a fraction of its men while over 90% of your forces were killed.

Bitparity’s distorted view of history becomes more bent as he continues to post.

That’s right. In response to sterj0me correctly stating that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the Roman Empire fell, bitparity declares that point was actually in 1922 with “the abdication of the last roman emperor, Mehmed VI“.

1922? Mehmed VI, the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire?

Are you fucking kidding me???

And this is the top voted post in AskHistorians? A subreddit with 757,253 followers is upvoting this bullshit? I almost thought it was a troll post.

Now I won’t post everything here, but just the highlights so you can understand how ludicrous the situation is. I couldn’t believe nobody was questioning any of this obvious distortion of historical facts.

So I did.

I’m Charlemagneffxiv btw.

Bitparity isn’t just lying here. He’s creating revisionism that conveniently ignores the fact the Ottoman’s never took Rome itself, and also ignores the existence of the Holy Roman Empire which, if anyone was to argue that there was a continuation of the Roman Empire, then the Holy Roman Empire would be the one to pick given the Papal approval which it, and not the Ottoman Empire, possessed.

And this is ALL in a thread asking about the Roman Senate in Italy; the Western Roman Empire. It’s got shit to do with Constantinople but he’s taken over the thread to push this revisionist bullshit.

It is a historical fact that no Pope ever endorsed any Sultan of the Ottoman Empire as Roman Emperor. And even if one had no serious scholar of European history would ever promote the idea they genuinely were an extension of the Roman Empire because (whether self-awarded or bestowed) honorific titles do not define whether or not the Roman Empire continued on. There’s a gap of three centuries between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the birth of the Holy Roman Empire, and this is a well known fact.

At any result…..Unbelievably, my comments get downvoted. And others come to bitparity’s defense to support his nonsense.

After posting this I received the following message,

I messaged the mods asking why I was banned, and this was the response.

I was banned because I dared to point out his distortion of the historical record is Islamic propaganda. And you know what? It is. There’s absolutely no other reason why anyone would want folks to believe the Ottoman Empire was also the Roman Empire unless you’re trying to push a bias perspective of history that endorsed a pro Islamic perspective. Which is sadly something that is happening in the world right now.

Islamic propaganda has become a huge problem on user-generated websites like reddit and YouTube, where historical negationism and revisionism blend together to create absurd timelines such as that the Roman Empire didn’t fall until 1922 when a powerless “Sultan” was forced into exile. The misinformation is something that needs to be combated, because chipping away at the historical record creates a foundation for recruitment; misleading people into believing a false version of history makes them more susceptible to recruitment efforts for these extremist groups that would have you believe they possess credibility based on some claimed historical connection to something like the Roman Empire.

Absolutely no credible historian would ever purport something like this, and yet this is exactly what the moderators at Ask Historians on reddit have allowed. They have deleted all posts which point out that bitparity is giving an intentionally inaccurate version of history and has basically taken over a thread asking about early medieval Italy to interject a version of history one might otherwise find only endorsed by Iran — a country whose history books also have conventionally revised the events of WW II to claim the Holocaust never happened.

This is the danger of user-generated content platforms replacing completely traditional media. This is a thread with over 2,000 upvotes. Thousands of people have read this post and now believe the lies because all opposition to the propaganda was deleted by the moderators of Ask Historians.

I mean, who the heck are these people? What qualifies each of them to be a moderator of a forum where people ask and receive answers about history? Anonymous posting and moderating of information doesn’t make information more accessible, it removes all sense of legitimacy because you have no idea who is acting as the gate keeper of information now. And unless you are well versed in the subject matter you can’t possibly know when you’re being lied to.

Oh, as for bitparity? Yeah….here’s some other choice quotes from the same user account.

This next one is my favorite though, because it’s quite revealing of bitparity’s perspective on Islam. Not so much in what he has written, but in how much he has written….

Look at all this wall of text. This massive wall of gibberish to try to distract from the obvious answer: Mohammad was a Jew. 

Islam is an Abrahamic religion. This is a widely accepted fact. Similar to how the Holy Bible used by Christians incorporates elements from the Jewish Torah, the Islamic Quaran also incorporates stories from the Torah as well. When you remove a belief in the supernatural from the equation, the obvious conclusion is that Mohammad was a Jew who used the Torah as the basis for writing the Quaran, the same way the Council of Nicea used the Torah to produce the Old Testament of the Christian Holy Bible.

But bitparity, a supposed scholar of Religious Studies, dances around something he’d have learned in an undergraduate class. He makes the time-worn Islamist apologists argument that Mohammad was previously a “polytheist” but much in how the vast majority of Christianity is based on Judaism, the same is true for Islam. In a time when literacy was hardly common place, it’s unbelievable that Mohammad would base so much of his spinoff religion on an older religion that he and his early converts were not already extremely familiar with.

But hey, how dare anyone challenge the notion that Mohammad didn’t receive the Quaran directly from a magical angel, let alone imply Mohammad was a detestable Jew. That would violate several religious laws, and among the extremely devout (insane) be grounds for execution. / sarcasm

Moving on….

The original idea of user-generated content platforms was that because anyone could publish, that meant information which should be circulated should now be able to more easily. This has been the case in many regards, but in others what has occurred is new fiefdoms where those with bias and ulterior motivations have been allowed to silence the truth which their lies cannot survive in the light of. Reddit is certainly a platform like this, where popular subreddits frequently become taken over by the outliers on the fringes of their field; this is certainly the case with Ask Historians now, but has also occurred with r/science which has become a dumping group for social science magazines publishing “study results” created under questionable circumstances (e.g. survey results from college students forced to answer the survey as part of a course they are taking at a university).

r/science also promotes a ton of junk science. Case in point right now the top upvoted post is promoting some bullshit herbal supplement.

That’s 20K+ upvotes to the post in a subreddit with 18 million subscribers. Millions of people have seen this story, posted by a user who claims to possess a Medical degree, a PhD and purports to be a Clinical professor in medicine.

So what’s the problem? Well just look at what others have pointed out.

That’s right folks; the study results are a consequence of control group using unhealthy flies who die quicker than average flies.

And these kinds of junk science studies are very popular on reddit. That’s the great flaw of user-generated content; when people can post anything and claim to be anything they want to be, only those with substantial amounts of knowledge about the subject are able to separate good information from intentionally misleading information.

It’s my opinion that sites like reddit don’t make people smarter but instead they make most of the userbase dumber by filling their heads with nonsense that becomes difficult to unlearn. Sites like reddit are designed to isolate people of similar ideologies into echo chambers where the number of people who agree with your opinions is the most important metric, rather than the accuracy of your opinions.

The sites may make people more connected to others by assisting them with finding folks who share their hobbies, interests and values but………I mean, let’s not forget here; reddit is a site that is host to a lot of terrible people, who form communities around the terrible things they do. For every sub about video games or movies, there’s secret ones about child porn, drug dealing, hate groups and so on.

So the question must be asked; does the world need these platforms? Isn’t there a better way to allow the spread of information which doesn’t allow bad faith agents to seize control of the soapbox and reject truth in favor of their self-serving lies?

I think there is but it won’t be possible in a world where advertisers continue to fund the operation of platforms which allow fake news, propaganda, child abusers and extremist hate groups to organize, indoctrinate and radicalize other members of society. Advertisers need systems in place that ensure their money is not used to spread deception, lies and enable criminal activities. Programmatic advertising on user-generated content platform is an enabler of these activities, and it has to end.

Update: 9/3/2018:

Reddit admins have now acknowledged that Iran has been astroturfing reddit communities with propaganda to serve various agendas. Here’s the post https://www.reddit.com/r/announcements/comments/9bvkqa/an_update_on_the_fireeye_report_and_reddit/ and I have also archived it at http://archive.fo/xBRSr

#Validation