Why is Reddit such a toxic place

A canary died on Reddit. That sounds like a fallen sack of rice in China, but it's important. In order: Reddit is one of the largest websites in the world, ahead of Netflix, Paypal and Pornhub. Every month more than 235 million people share links there, discuss politics, quantum physics or computer games and talk about world events.

The canary is a term used in mining. The buddies used to take birds underground to protect themselves from carbon monoxide. Canaries react more quickly to a lack of oxygen than humans. If the animals stopped singing or fell passed out from the bar, that meant: upstairs!

The canary protects against overly curious authorities

Today the canary should not protect against poisonous gases, but against inquisitive authorities. The Patriot Act, a law from 2001, allows the FBI and other US agencies to send so-called National Security Letters (NSL) without a judge's reservation. This enables them to force telecommunications providers, banks and financial companies to release data about customers. These instructions go hand in hand with a "gag order", which means that companies are not even allowed to tell users that they had to pass on their data.

To get around this muzzle, civil rights activists, lawyers and companies have come up with the "Warrant Canaries". As long as a group does not receive any inquiries from the authorities, it publishes this information at regular intervals, for example in the semi-annual or annual transparency reports. For example, Reddit wrote in early 2015: "Up to this point, Reddit has not received an NSL."

The current transparency report appeared on Thursday - without the relevant passage. Thousands of users discuss the possible meanings on the site itself. Reddit boss Steve Huffman only writes: "I was advised not to say anything. Neither in one direction nor in the other." The company does not respond to press inquiries, so the interpretation remains speculation. Still, hardly anyone doubts that Reddit was forced at least once by a US agency in 2015 to release personal data - and to remain silent about it. Reddit warned its users without warning them.

It is debatable whether canaries are legal

In the USA, not only is Reddit's approach discussed, but also the legality of the canaries themselves. Opinions vary widely: civil rights activists are convinced that the National Security Letters violate the US Constitution. In particular, you accuse the FBI of abusing its power.

According to estimates, authorities sent several hundred thousand inquiries between 2001 and 2013, only a handful of which were subsequently reviewed by a judge. In the opinion of civil rights activists, it is therefore only right and fair to use the bird trick to defend oneself against the illegal muzzle. The US authorities and their lawyers see it completely differently: The confidentiality obligation on the basis of the Patriot Act is applicable law and the attempt to circumvent the requirement of silence is therefore illegal.

Reddit can't care less from now on. The canary is dead and everyone knows what that means. So it served its purpose.