Reddit Considers Banning ‘Anything That Harasses, Bullies or Abuses an Individual or Group’

Site may also exile racist forums behind opt-in wall

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This afternoon, Reddit's recently re-appointed CEO, Steve Huffman, asked the site's massive readership to weigh in on new policies regarding the site's content.

In a lengthy announcement post inviting users to ask him anything about the proposed changes, Huffman laid out several guidelines for what kind of comment would be removed from Reddit if the new rules are implemented.

In addition, he proposed to create a new, as yet unnamed category for subreddits focused on "content that violates a common sense of decency." Subreddit forums (likely including those with a focus on racist ideology) with this classification would "require a login, must be opted into, will not appear in search results or public listings, and will generate no revenue for Reddit." 

The policy on content removal for all of Reddit would prohibit:

  • Spam
  • Anything illegal (i.e. 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
  • 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 behaviors intimidate others into silence)
  • Sexually suggestive content featuring minors

While most users would likely agree with a majority of the restrictions, the line about "anything" that is construed as harassment or abuse has already sparked vocal debate about how Reddit admins will define such an attack on a site where users regularly tear into each other with carnivorous glee.

One of the first questions posed to Huffman (who goes by the username "spez" on the site) was whether the admins already had specific controversial subreddits in mind for removal.

"We'll consider banning subreddits that clearly violate the guidelines in my post–the ones that are illegal or cause harm to others," the CEO responded. "There are many subreddits whose contents I and many others find offensive, but that alone is not justification for banning."

A follow-up question asked, "What would you define as causing harm to others?"

"I think we have an intuitive sense of what this means (e.g. death threats, inciting rape)," Huffman wrote, "but before we release an official update to our policy we will spell this out as precisely as possible."

Reddit has been in a general state of simmering revolt for weeks, with frustration among active users reaching a boiling point when popular Reddit employee Victoria Taylor was abruptly fired. Many subreddits went dark for a day in protest, and the uproar eventually led to the exit of CEO Ellen Pao.

However, the unrest did not end along with Pao's tenure, as Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian admitted that Taylor's ouster was largely his decision. Since then, some have accused the executives of using Pao as a scapegoat and continuing to pursue policies that will make Reddit more palatable to marketers and advertisers.

To be clear, not all users think that a more constrained Reddit would necessarily be a bad thing.

"If they don't take care of it," one user wrote in response to Huffman's policy discussion, "Reddit will soon have the dubious honor of being the most active white supremacist forum on the Internet."

However, the most vocal critics of Reddit have pressed Huffman to address whether marketing interests are driving the taming of Reddit, a claim the CEO denies.

"How much of the push toward removing 'ugly' elements of Reddit comes from the motivation to monetize Reddit?" asked one user today. 

"Zero," Huffman replied.

He noted that this policy revision is meant to find the line between truly free speech and being a responsible forum for discussion.

"The concept of free speech is important to us," he wrote, "but completely unfettered free speech can cause harm to others and additionally silence others, which is what we'll continue to address."

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."