Reddit plans to deal with its racist content by… sticking a curtain in front of it?

Reddit, the self-proclaimed “front page of the Internet,” has been under a lot of fire in recent months. Staff turmoil, an interim CEO leaving, and its former CEO/co-founder returning have all happened within the last week or two alone. On top of all that is increasing criticism of Reddit’s sizable base of racist, sexist, and homophobic subreddit users, who’re quite vocal and an example of the worst aspects of Reddit’s libertarian “hands off” attitudes toward free speech.

Today, Reddit announced it’s changing its policies to deal with its nastier aspects. As outlined earlier today, some of Reddit’s changes include banning:

  • Spam
  • “Anything illegal” (i.e., copyright infringement)
  • Publicizing someone’s private information, including addresses, etc.
  • “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)”
  • Certain illegal sexual content

As for its racist subreddits (and legal adult material), Reddit will keep them on the site, but basically try to section it all off from the rest of Reddit:

There are other types of content that are specifically classified:
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.

That sums up Reddit’s current status quo.

As for my two cents, Reddit has two drives. They want to serve as a “freedom of speech” beacon as widely as possible. However, they also need to eventually make the site profitable by attracting outside advertisers. Unfortunately for Reddit, they’re merely sweeping its nastier aspects under a rug, while only banning a bare minimum of items like non-consensual pornography or copyright infringing materials—basically stuff that’d run afoul of US laws/result in Reddit being sued. However, no advertiser will want to advertise on a controversial site that hosts a sizable and vocal community of racists and trolls, as noted by CIO and Business Insider, two popular business news sites.

On top of that, it’s also a flimsy way of handling its worst aspects. Despite Reddit’s renewed vows to fight harassment, the “sectioned off” users are still on the site, and so are free to go into the non-bigoted subreddits and harass or disrupt users there.

While Reddit’s previous CEO was of Asian descent, this whole situation also speaks to the need for more minorities to be employed in the tech world as a whole. A more diverse tech world might result in less tone-deaf policies and attitudes on issues related to diversity, racism, etc.

Finally, Reddit’s actions come off as cowardly. Reddit could have decided to make the site a more welcoming place for people that look like, well, myself, and just delete the racist subreddits outright, while telling the racists to not let the door hit them on the way out. Instead, Reddit decided that not risking offending a bunch of racist meatheads was more important? One would figure Reddit could survive if the aforementioned losers all crawled off to 4chan or other even-worse websites online (or, well, pay for their own website hosting). “Freedom of speech” applies to United States government censorship; it doesn’t mean a privately-run site has to cater to such views, any more than I’d have to give space to bigots on my site. (See this xkcd strip.)

So overall, Reddit’s problems still exist, and today’s actions won’t help the site in the long run fiscally or image-wise. I wonder how much longer the site will last before it either is forced to actually improve in a truly serious way (i.e. lose the racists and trolls) or implode.

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Eva Blue (CC BY)

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