Reddit explicitly banned hate speech today, the culmination of a yearslong debate over the limits of acceptable speech on the self-proclaimed “front page of the internet.”
The change came as Reddit issued a new set of sitewide rules, to which each individual community—or subreddit—on the platform must abide.
The first new rule expands on the oft-used “remember the human” guideline in the site’s “reddiquette,” and lays out that everyone has a right to use the platform “free of harassment, bullying and threats of violence.”
Reddit previously barred content that “encourages or incites violence” or “threatens, harasses or bullies,” but had not explicitly banned hate speech and racism.
Another new rule specifically outlaws “spam and malicious attempts to interfere with other communities.”
In a media briefing Friday, Reddit co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman conceded that the site’s policies prevented users from “feeling safe and sharing their vulnerabilities.”
“I have to admit I have struggled with balancing my values as an American and around free speech and free expression with my values and the company’s values around common human decency,” Huffman told reporters. “Reddit’s mission is to bring community and belonging to everybody in the world.”
Reddit also banned /r/The_Donald, the controversial subreddit devoted to President Donald Trump which, for years, has been a hotspot for racism, misogyny and other hate speech.
The_Donald had consistently fostered and upvoted more rule-breaking content than average communities, and moderators “refused to meet our most basic expectations,” Huffman wrote in a post on the subreddit Announcements about the new policies.
The_Donald was one of about 2,000 subreddits banned in today’s purge, most of which were inactive. Only about 200 of those had more than 10 daily active users, according to a Reddit spokesperson.
Huffman said moderators of The_Donald effectively abandoned the community this year, linking to a new central hub outside of the site. In November 2017, he defended the moderators, saying they were generally “cooperative.”
The_Donald “is a small part of a large problem we face in this country—that a large part of the population feels unheard, and the last thing we’re going to do is take their voice away,” he said at the time.
ChapoTrapHouse, the Reddit hub for the popular leftist podcast of the same name, was also banned, in part over moderators’ unwillingness to clean it up. The spokesperson confirmed that Reddit would also take action against individual users today, but did not provide additional details.
The_Donald, with 790,000 users, and ChapoTrapHouse, with 160,000 members at the time of its removal, were “quarantined” last summer—meaning they were restricted and users had to opt in to view them—for comments threatening or encouraging violence.
Unlike most major social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, Reddit relies on volunteer moderators to set and enforce rules on subreddits, many of which have individual prohibitions against hate speech. But each subreddit must adhere to a set of sitewide rules.
Like most major social media platforms, the site hasn’t always been a welcoming place for all users. In 2018, Huffman explicitly said that racist rhetoric did not break Reddit’s sitewide rules.
Reddit previously banned far-right subreddits including Incels, AltRight and AlternativeRight, as well as other extreme examples of hate speech and violence like WatchPeopleDie, FatPeopleHate and BeatingWomen. But pressure on Reddit intensified in recent weeks amid the nation’s social unrest, and earlier this month a coalition of more than 200 subreddits demanded the platform reexamine its policies.
The_Donald has been one of the most public points of controversy for Reddit in recent years and recently was criticized by former CEO Ellen Pao, who helmed Reddit for nearly a year, but resigned in 2015 after user uproar over firing the company’s talent director.