Last year, Reddit’s former senior vice-president for product Dan McComas said that his time at the online hub “made the world a worse place,” an acknowledgment of the site’s history as a gathering place for hate groups and serial harassers. But those words felt somewhat hollow considering Reddit’s most toxic communities had, by and large, already scurried to 4chan, 8chan, and other dark corners of the web. As QAnon and other conspiracies continue to flourish in those forums, Reddit’s mostly become a place to mourn Game Of Thrones, willingly get roasted, and discover if you’re the asshole in any given situation. (Mostly. There will always be scumbags.)
Just look at r/The_Donald. For years, the subreddit regularly defied the site’s rules regarding hate speech, and only received punishment last year when Reddit placed it in “quarantine,” which meant users needed to click through an extra page to reach it. It wasn’t long before the group began migrating to a new site, leaving its once-deplorable halls vacant. Today, it was banned alongside roughly 2,000 other subreddits, many of which have also long since been abandoned. A revised content policy asserts that any subreddits that “incite violence or that promote hate based on identity or vulnerability” are prohibited.
In a blog post outlining the site’s next steps, CEO Steve Huffman says r/The_Donald, “relished in exploiting and detracting from the best of Reddit.” He also acknowledges the confusion baked into his previous statement about how “racism is not against the rules, but also isn’t welcome on Reddit.”
“This gap between our content policy and our values has eroded our effectiveness in combating hate and racism on Reddit,” he writes. “I accept full responsibility for this.” In the following paragraph, he says he should have “quarantined” r/The_Donald sooner.
This statement comes a few weeks after former CEO Ellen Pao publicly called out Huffman on Twitter. Replying to a post about the site’s new rules, she wrote, “You should have shut down the_donald instead of amplifying it and its hate, racism, and violence. So much of what is happening now lies at your feet. You don’t get to say BLM when Reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long.”
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At best, Reddit banning these mostly abandoned forums is a symbolic gesture to prove it plans to take hate speech more seriously. “I have to admit that I’ve 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 said on a call with reporters, per The Verge.
He continued, “Reddit’s mission is to bring community and belonging to everybody in the world, and there is speech in the world and on Reddit that prevents other people from doing so. Harassing speech or hateful speech prevents people from coming to Reddit and feeling safe and sharing their vulnerabilities.”
“So if we have speech on Reddit that’s preventing people from using Reddit the way that we intend it to be used, or that prevents us from achieving our mission, then it’s actually a very easy decision,” he said.
Also banned was the subreddit devoted to popular left-wing podcast Chapo Trap House, which, per Huffman, also violated the site’s rules. Other banned accounts include r/DarkHumorAndMemes, r/GenderCritical, and r/Cumtown.
“Political speech continues to be safe,” Huffman said. “But all communities, including our political communities, have to abide by our policies. And while we will do everything we can to help bring them in line, if they fail in doing so they are not allowed on Reddit.”
The Chapo hosts don’t seem to be sweating it, though.
Trump, on the other hand, will probably be tweeting about this soon.
Reddit’s expanded definitions of what it counts as hateful behavior and activities can be found here.