Last September, the online discussion platform Reddit came into severe public scrutiny. One of its pages (or subreddits as they are called on the platform) had been instrumental in the widespread distribution of stolen celebrity nude photos. Since then, the hate speech and hateful behaviour tolerated on the platform has come under severe criticism, as can be read here and here. Today, its new CEO (and one its co-founders) Steve Huffman laid out its new content policy which specifically bans certain kind of content from the platform.

This is a big step for Reddit. As this New York Times article describes, “Reddit, one of the Internet’s most visited websites, with 170 million regular monthly users, has traditionally been a kind of repository for all sorts of content and discussion, as varied as adorable cat photos, violent pornography and question-and-answer sessions with President Obama.” The platform holds unfettered free speech as its core value, and has asserted the same in the past. So for Reddit’s CEO to explicitly ban certain kind of content from the platform is an acknowledgment that some online speech and behaviour has no place in civilised society.

Here’s what is now banned on Reddit.

  • Spam
  • Anything illegal (ie, things that are actually illegal, such as copyrighted material. Discussing illegal activities, such as drug use, is not illegal)
  • Publication of someone’s private and confidential information (also known as doxxing)
  • Anything that incites harm or violence against an individual or group of people
  • Anything that harasses, bullies, or abuses an individual or group of people (these behaviours intimidate others into silence)
  • Sexually suggestive content featuring minors

Huffman also laid out certain guidelines for classification of other content.

  • Adult content must be flagged as NSFW (Not Safe For Work). Users must opt into seeing NSFW communities. This includes pornography, which is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.
  • Similar to NSFW, another type of content that is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it, is the content that violates a common sense of decency. This classification will require a login, must be opted into, will not appear in search results or public listings, and will generate no revenue for Reddit.

Of these, some have always been banned on the platform such as illegal content, child pornography, material that incites harm and violence. Others were brought in adhoc: doxxing was banned in September 2013, revenge porn this February, and content that “harasses, bullies and abuses” was banned as late as this May.

This announcement is essentially a compilation of all these adhoc policies into a comprehensive content policy for its users and moderators. It also displays an acceptance on the part of the company that the platform is no longer an “anything goes” forum: there are rules about how to behave and what not to post.

What is also new is the second guideline, which is an effective quarantine on “indecent content” which will no longer be publicly accessible or distributable. Huffman justified this guideline as “letting people form communities around offensive ideas but keeping those communities off “mainstream” Reddit.”

As an organisation that was formed to counter the rising levels of online hate, OHPI welcomes the announcement by Reddit. It still needs to be seen how strictly Reddit institutes these policies. As we have pointed out many times before, the problem with social media platforms is also often how effectively they implement the bans. With platforms being accountable to no one but themselves, such policy announcements can sometimes become nothing more than eye wash.

For now we are glad that Reddit has at least acknowledged that online hate is no longer acceptable on its platform.

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