How Reddit is Fighting for Its Future

Can the growing social site balance the desire for free speech and anonymity with the need to eliminate trolling and hate groups?

Reddit is going through an uncomfortable evolution, which is creating tension within the community. On one hand, users are organizing the largest gift exchange in the world, and on the other they’re leaking compromising pictures of celebrities. This tension exists between the community and site administrators too, as demonstrated by the revolt earlier this month. While Reddit is working on policies to deal with outstanding issues, some of those changes may not go nearly far enough.

In an attempt to clear the air and discuss potential changes, Reddit admins opened an AMA last week. Some activity, like Spam, pornographic material involving minors, publishing the private information of others, and “anything that incites harm or violence” is going to be outright banned.

Other content, from consensual adult pornography to “content that violates a common sense of decency” would be removed from public search results, and would require an account to view. However, this doesn’t really seem to go far enough, considering some of the content that users post to Reddit.

According to BuzzFeed contributor Charlie Warzel:

The rampant racism and sexism will still be there, only now it’s opt-in.

The debate between Reddit users and staff seems to largely be ideological, and while these new rules are an effort to make moderation more concrete, the response still seems uneven. One major point of contention is the incredibly racist subreddit r/coontown (Not safe at all) remaining, while the pro-rape subreddit r/rapingwomen is banned.

New Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said during the AMA:

It’s okay to say, ‘I don’t like this group of people.’ It’s not ok to say, ‘I’m going to kill this group of people.’

Reddit staff continually walk this fine line of free expression: they want to maintain the anonymity and free expression of the site, but trolling problems run deep and abuse of anonymity is rampant. But efforts to find balance could serve as a model for other social sites across the internet, according to Wired contributor Davey Alba.

Reddit’s effort to curb its dark side without betraying its ideals becomes an emblematic drama of the Internet today.

Sexism, racism, harassment, and many other activities that range from idle trolling to violent hate speech pervade certain parts of the Internet of today. Reddit seems to house examples of every kind of trolling, and it’s one of the biggest social sites to do so. Fixing Reddit could bring new strategies and tools to moderation across the web.

Still, if subreddits like coontown continue to exist, it’s hard to see how Reddit could become a positive example. Indeed, Reddit’s continued rise in popularity could be stifled, and users may pressure the site in a way it doesn’t expect — by presenting the worst of the site before potential advertisers. Reddit’s continued growth hinges on getting this right, and the current changes don’t look like a good start.