Almost five years ago, when the #metoo movement first exploded into the public consciousness, Ian knew he had to stand up to misogyny.
It wasn’t something he’d ever really considered before, but as the topic of abuse and harassment of women became more widely discussed, he started to give the issue more thought. At the time, he was 20, and he’d just begun to have more adult relationships with women, as friends and girlfriends. A lot of them had told them about abuse they’d faced themselves. He was shocked by how unequal everything was.
[Content warning: glorification of sexual violence, consent violations, sexualization of minors, child pornography]
In the wake of all this happening, Ian began to frequent more feminist subreddits, absorbing and learning what he could. Then, last year, he discovered the community r/BanFemaleHateSubs, a now nearly 12,000-member group devoted to policing Reddit’s misogynistic underbelly.
Staffed by a group of predominantly female volunteers, it works to bring down communities that it considers to be abusive or dangerous toward women. The subreddit has been behind — or at least contributed to — the banning of hateful communities like r/abusedsluts, r/rapingwomen, r/againstwomensrights, and r/deadlyerotica.
“It’s scary how easy these communities are to find.”
Exploring r/BanFemaleHateSubs inspired Ian, now a 26-year-old hospitality industry worker on the East Coast, to act. (Ian, like all the interviewees in this article, asked to use an alias for privacy reasons.) “When I joined that group, I realized I could do something that would help,” he says. Ian contributed to r/BanFemaleHateSubs for roughly a year, including two months moderating the community, in March and April of 2022. “It wasn’t the biggest help in the world — but it was something.”
He wasn’t prepared for how shocking the material he would be exposed to was. One subreddit that sticks out in his mind was called Tributes Delivered. On it, men would post screenshots of their conversations with women and underage girls they’d DMed on Instagram.
“They’d say ‘Hey, I did a painting of you, do you want to see it?’ And then they’d send her the ‘tribute,’” recounts Ian. (A tribute photo is a printed-out image that someone has masturbated to and ejaculated on.) “Of course, the women would feel horrible — but that’s what these guys got off on.
“They’d even sent some of the pictures to the women’s mothers,” he adds. A similar subreddit, r/NSFW_Tributes, where men post videos of themselves ejaculating over pictures of celebrities or even acquaintances — some of whom appear to be underage — is still active and has more than 200,000 members.
Sadly, the members of r/BanFemaleHateSubs are all too familiar with this sort of content, which they want to get rid of for good. They’ve had enough with Reddit, which they say is failing to take action against many communities engaging in vulgar or unlawful behavior. They’re urging Reddit to listen to their complaints and do much more to combat misogyny on the platform.
According to Nadia, a 19-year-old from Israel who joined r/BanFemaleHateSubs recently, members of the group work both independently and together to take problematic Reddit communities down. “I’m still figuring out ways I can help. Mostly, I look for groups and start posting about them, either in bunches or in singles, as well as reporting it,” she says.
Unfortunately, this means trawling through endless streams of horrifying content. “Some [subreddits] are very graphic and violent, and there have been cases where they’ve posted regarding minors. There’s even been real rape videos and stuff like that,” says Alex, a 20-year-old Nepalese student and moderator of r/BanFemaleHateSubs.
“I’ve learned to see all kinds of [terms]. Sometimes I have to check because I’m dealing with language I didn’t know existed yesterday.”
Alex, who is a gay man, regularly gets mistaken for a woman online (an issue he attributes to being polite and considerate), and as such has been on the receiving end of slurs and abuse from men who think he’s female. It’s what inspired him to join the battle. “In a way, I experience firsthand the kind of treatment women get online, so fighting this is a shared interest,” he says. “It’s scary how easy these communities are to find.”
Members of r/BanFemaleHateSubs have trained each other to pick up on the coded language and behaviors of the platform’s misogynistic community. “I’ve learned to see all kinds of words. At first, it doesn’t seem wrong — like an N and an L, but that means ‘no limits,’” says Nadia.
“No limits,” she tells Input, is slang designed to show that someone has “no limits” on the age of the minors featured in their sexual content. She has also found that the words “young” and “teen” often mean minors are involved, and the term “mega trades” often refers to huge folders of nudes that are swapped online.
“Before doing this, these words didn’t mean anything to me. It’s not always obvious,” Nadia says. “Sometimes I have to check because I’m dealing with language I didn’t know existed yesterday.”
Although these volunteers take pride in what they do, it has come at a cost to their own well-being.
“It becomes kind of hard to emotionally comprehend, when you’re looking at that stuff and reporting it every day, how bad it all is,” says Ian, who in May took a temporary break from r/BanFemaleHateSubs due to its impact on his mental health. “I became desensitized to all of this stuff, to heavy things. I realized how fucked up that really was.”
Nadia has also felt weighed down by the content she is now regularly exposed to online, even after volunteering for less than two months. “Sometimes it gets hard to do it, and I have to take breaks. Sometimes I have to let go and step back when it gets too much. But mostly I’m thinking of the mental health of the people in those videos who are having their trauma exploited,” she says.
“It seems like Reddit allows pretty much anything to fly — whether it’s underage content, misogyny, or even transphobia — if someone is aroused by it.”
Her main concern, however, is what might happen when she steps away for good. “I’m one person out of many — mostly women — who are trying their best to combat this. But I’m not going to have as much time in the future,” says Nadia, who is between jobs. “I hope there’s going to be someone that can replace me.”
Meanwhile, members of r/BanFemaleHateSubs say they are baffled by Reddit’s lack of direct action to stop communities they’ve banned from returning. “Ban evasions aren’t allowed on Reddit, but these subs keep coming back,” says Alex. “It makes me wonder if Reddit somewhat supports these communities.”
He points to the example of violentacrez, a Reddit user who manned several subs of underage content and enjoyed close relationships with many of Reddit’s staff members in the 2010s. “It seems like Reddit allows pretty much anything to fly — whether it’s underage content, misogyny, or even transphobia — if someone is aroused by it,” Alex says.
Nadia is simply exasperated by Reddit’s refusal to fight the depravity on its platform. “I’m not an expert or tech-savvy in any way, and I find these groups so easily. In under an hour, it’s more groups than I can count on my hands. It’s shameful,” she says.
“I’m sure there are people at Reddit that are working hard, but clearly, they aren’t working hard enough,” Nadia adds. “It takes a really long time for these groups to be banned or taken down. It shouldn’t be this difficult.”
When approached by Input for comment, a Reddit spokesperson did not address specific questions related to this story. “Our sitewide policies explicitly prohibit the sexualization of minors, non-consensual sharing of intimate media, and hate based on identity or vulnerability,” the spokesperson says via email.
“As documented in our Annual Transparency Report, our dedicated Safety teams regularly take action against communities and users for this behavior, including removing communities that are evading a ban, and we will continue to enforce our policies across the platform.”
“If I thought things were hopeless, I wouldn’t be a part of this community.”
Ian thinks that Reddit’s approach has to change. “There’s just so much stuff that we report which comes back to us as not breaking the content policy,” he says. “Even if it’s not, they should still care that this stuff is being posted.”
He points to r/MotherDaughter, an active subreddit with more than 160,000 members in which users share pictures of mothers and daughters to explain what they’d do to them sexually. (“Would love to see them each riding one of those taps and kissing,” one commenter said of a photo of a mother posing with her adult daughter in front of a draft beer bar.)
Ian alleges that there have been horrifying instances in which members of r/MotherDaughter have sexualized mothers pictured with children as young as seven. “The post of that little girl wasn’t violating their content policy,” says Ian of one post he reported. “Maybe they should change [the policy].”
Although Ian feels put out by Reddit’s lack of support, like many other members of r/BanFemaleHateSubs, he isn’t going to let it stop him. “If I thought things were hopeless, I wouldn’t be a part of this community, and I wouldn’t talk about it. I just wouldn’t do anything,” he says.
“The ultimate goal would be to stop this behavior,” Ian continues, “and that the generation of boys growing up now will know, and believe, that doing this stuff online is wrong.”