Reddit deleting comments without indication

I have seemingly had comments deleted on reddit without my knowledge and consent, and without ever being notified anything was wrong. So I stopped using Reddit.

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By. Jacob

Edited: 2024-04-04 21:32

Reddit has seemingly quietly deleted some of my comments without notifying me, and I am not the only one. The phenomena is also discussed in this old Reddit thread.

This is also known as Shadowbanning or ghost banning; a dark design pattern that is profoundly deceptive and unethical. I think it should be outlawed in free societies.

I recently noticed my missing comments by random chance when viewing my own profile in incognito. On my time line they would show up as [deleted], but when logged in I would not see anything indicating they had been deleted. It could of course be a temporary technical issue, but I find that unlikely, as one comment were at least several days old.

It is an unacceptable and deceptive "feature" in the moderation process that often seem to falsely identify content as spam and thereby quietly auto-deleting it without even notifying the user. E.g. Mere linking to official documentation could possibly be a trigger, but I could not tell what specifically is causing it or even whether it is dependant on the individual sub. Regardless, Reddit should not allow such deceptiveness to take place.

It has completely eroded my trust in Reddit as a user.

Should I continue using it, I would be forced to go through extra steps to verify that my comments are properly posted and not auto-deleted. And since I get no notification when it happens, I guess I might also need to monitor old content I posted. I am not going to accept this, so I chose to simply leave the site. Good riddance – Q/A discussion sites can increasingly be replaced with AI tools anyway.

Possible triggers

It is of course speculation on my part, but I noticed the only thing in common my ghost-deleted comments had, is that I have included links in my comments.

I rarely link to my own material, and in fact I prefer not to, so that can not be it. I talked a bit about why I don't do "linkbuilding" in this article – not that linking to your own site should under any circumstances be a trigger in itself – but I do often link to official documentation, and even those comments seem to have magically disappeared, showing up with the infamous [deleted] body text when viewing my own profile feed in incognito. Reddit might as well just remove the ability to add links in comments entirely, and thereby avoid these false-positive scenarios.

Just be honest; If you do not want users to link to external sites, then you just block it and remove the ability entirely. Same thing if there are specific words or phrases you do not want users to write – just prompt the user the moment they post, and inform them their comment contains something not acceptable in the context.

A profoundly dark design pattern

User-posted material being deleted without notifying the user is a dark pattern; apparently the argument for using it is, if a spammer notices their comment being deleted, they will just create a new account and try again. But, this is not really a sustainable argument, because it assumes the filters are broken. A spammer may very well try again, but then you just thank them and improve your filtering.

Had it not been for random chance, I probably never would have noticed I was being shadowbanned! Now that I know, I have just decided to stop using the site.

Funny, I was wondering why some of my better comments were not getting any upvotes – they got auto-deleted without notifying me. Duh!

I am not sure I got the URL right, but this should be a direct link to one of my affected comments in r/seo: The only reason to get rid of the links, is if you find them distracting... – and here is a complete copy of my comment:

The only reason to get rid of the links, is if you find them distracting. There is no harm in them existing, it is just annoying having to scroll past them in statistics. Etc.

If you examine them in ahrefs, then many will be simple hotlinked images, which are not even counted as "links" anyway. Some will be <a> linked, but the content/pages they are included on are of such low quality that Google will most likely filter and ignore them without you having to do anything.

Further more, visiting the pages will reveal that they are basically cloaked pages that only show the content to search engines like Google. Doing a simple cURL request will reveal this:

curl --user-agent "Googlebot/2.1 (+http://www.google.com/bot.html)" -v https://example.comm/some-keyword-k.html

Note. Changing your Browsers user agent is not always enough. There are other parameters these spammers might use to hide the real content to users and only have it show for search engines. However, this is obviously very easy to detect, and Google can, and probably does ignore it for the same reason.

More info here: https://developers.google.com/search/docs/essentials/spam-policies

In conclusion

This sort of thing is one of the nastiest dark design patterns I have seen in use. It deceives users, and it is ultimately also a form of discrimination and disrespect.

It could be quite damaging to the reputation of the website that engages in it – hopefully my article here will contribute towards a change for the better, because there is just no valid reason why you would not notify a user that their comment was deleted. If this is to hide the fact from spammers, then you should rather look at it as an opportunity to improve your filtering and pattern matching tools.

Because of this, I deleted my Reddit account, and I do not expect to come back.

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