The social news aggregator site Reddit has always tried to be as hands-off as possible when it comes to handling moderation and censorship. The way it’s worked for most of the site’s history is that the people who created the various subreddits devoted to cute animals or cute corpses or whatever control their own community with however many self-selected mods they desire.
But what happens when an entire subreddit becomes so rotten to the core that it’s now a haven for trolls and harassers? It’s a question Reddit hasn’t had to answer until recently, but the answer came down on yesterday as site administrators in a post labeled “Removing harassing subreddits:”
Today we are announcing a change in community management on reddit. Our goal is to enable as many people as possible to have authentic conversations and share ideas and content on an open platform. We want as little involvement as possible in managing these interactions but will be involved when needed to protect privacy and free expression, and to prevent harassment.
It is not easy to balance these values, especially as the Internet evolves. We are learning and hopefully improving as we move forward. We want to be open about our involvement: We will ban subreddits that allow their communities to use the subreddit as a platform to harass individuals when moderators don’t take action. We’re banning behavior, not ideas.
And with that, they banned r/FatPeopleHate, r/HamPlanetHatred, r/TransF*gs, r/NeoF*g, and r/ShitN*****sSay. Out of all the subreddits on the site, these five had been identified as overwhelmingly negative communities where users often coordinated to harass other redittors.
FatPeopleHate (which regularly made it into people’s /r/all feed with pictures and stories mocking overweight people) was the only subreddit with more than 5,000 users, but those users quickly rose up in anger and plastered the entire site with pictures of fat people. Another popular protest move involved uploading pictures of Reddit CEO Ellen Pao to the subreddit /r/PunchableFaces with oh so creative titles like “This c*nt needs a punch to the face.”
It’s hard to feel much sympathy for the reddits that got wiped out, especially when the reaction shows just how reasonable most of the people involved in these places are. But Reddit didn’t do the best job of communicating how their banhammer works; most people saw the removal of FatPeopleHate as a PC move to get rid of an embarrassingly popular subreddit, not clamp down on specific harassment that was actively flowing from its users.
Many of the people upset about this whole situation are of the “What’s next?” variety. There’s several dozen popular subreddits left that could fall under the scope of Reddit’s new ban policy, and hundreds of lesser-known subs with indefensible content that continue to exist.
The TL;DR of this all is that a couple of trolly subreddits were nuked by site administrators, and the “sh*tlords” (that’s actually what the people in /r/FatPeopleHate called themselves) are upset about it. Free speech didn’t just die at Reddit; subreddit moderators have used their powers to delete stuff and ban people since day one. But site administrators will no longer be turning a blind eye to subreddits they think are toxic to the community. With 169 million users, it’s kind of surprising they made it this long without having to do something.
(via Ars Technica)