Reddit first launched as an online discussion site in June 2005. Now, 15 years later, it has finally taken action to officially ban hate speech and groups that promote it.
A revised Reddit content policy, announced Monday, explicitly states that groups or users that “incite violence or that promote hate based on identity or vulnerability” are prohibited. “Everyone has a right to use Reddit free of harassment, bullying and threats of violence,” it says.
With the updated content policy, Reddit is initially banning about 2,000 subreddits, most of which are inactive, the company said. Included in the purge is The_Donald, a pro-Donald Trump forum notorious for users posting racist, misogynistic, anti-Islam and anti-Semitic content. At one point, The_Donald had nearly 800,000 active users.
In 2015, Reddit adopted a new content policy and banned several blatantly racist subreddits. But until today, the official rules still did not explicitly forbid hate or racist forums.
Reddit CEO/co-founder Steve Huffman, in an post about the new policy, said “I admit we have fallen short” in supporting the site’s communities and moderators with respect to adopting a comprehensive anti-hate policy.
“We are committed to working with you to combat the bad actors, abusive behaviors, and toxic communities that undermine our mission and exist solely to get in the way of the creativity, discussions, and communities that bring us all to Reddit in the first place,” Huffman wrote.
Reddit provided examples of hateful activities that would violate the rule:
- A post describing a racial minority as subhuman and inferior to the racial majority.
- A post arguing that rape of women should be acceptable and not a crime.
- A meme saying it is sickening that people of color have the right to vote.
- A subreddit group dedicated to mocking people with physical disabilities.
“All communities on Reddit must abide by our content policy in good faith,” Huffman wrote. The company banned The_Donald “because it has not done so, despite every opportunity. The community has consistently hosted and upvoted more rule-breaking content than average” as well as “antagonized
us and other communities.” The smaller ChapoTrapHouse was banned for similar reasons.
Both The_Donald and ChapoTrapHouse already had been “quarantined” by the site in 2019. According to Reddit, that means they were “restricted due to significant issues with reporting and addressing violations of Reddit’s rules against violence and other aspects of the Content Policy.” Reddit’s quarantining penalty puts a warning in front of subreddits, prevents them from generating revenue, and excludes their posts from appearing in search and recommendations.
Of the 2,000 subreddits removed for hate speech, only 10% have more than 10 active daily users, according to Reddit. The 10 most active groups among those banned (in addition to The_Donald and ChapoTrapHouse) are: darkhumorandmemes; consumeproduct; darkjokecentral; gendercritical; cumtown; imgoingtohellforthis2; wojak; and soyboys.
The latest move by Reddit comes after years of critics calling for the site crack down on hate speech, and amid nationwide protests for racial justice after the police killing of George Floyd.
Earlier this month, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from the board and urged Reddit to select a Black candidate to replace him. Five days later, Reddit named Michael Seibel, a Black venture-capital investor and adviser, to the board of directors in Ohanian’s place.
The new Reddit policy banning hate speech defines “marginalized or vulnerable groups” as including those “based on their actual and perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or disability.” It also specifically includes “victims of a major violent event and their families,” such as parents of kids killed the 2012 mass shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, who have been targeted by right-wing conspiracy theorists bizarrely claiming the attack was a hoax.
However, according to Reddit, the hate-speech ban “does not protect all groups or all forms of identity.” The site says, for example, that “the rule does not protect groups of people who are in the majority or who promote such attacks of hate.”
Reddit’s updated content policy also spells out a new requirement that users “abide by community rules,” asking them to, as Huffman put it, “post with authentic, personal interest.” The rule prohibits activity intended to “cheat or engage in content manipulation” in a subreddit, including spamming, vote manipulation, ban evasion, or subscriber fraud, as well as anything else to “interfere with or disrupt Reddit communities.”
Reddit said it averaged more than 430 million monthly visitors and 21 billion monthly page views as of the end of 2019.