After weeks of turmoil and bad press and many, many outraged posts by very angry people without a sense of precisely what free speech protections Americans are afforded by the Bill of Rights, Reddit has announced some proposed changes to its content policy. Basically, the current thinking is they’ll lock the really vile stuff in the basement—but not evict it.
Cofounder and once-more CEO Steve Huffman (who got landed with this hot potato that’s actually radioactive shit wrapped in tinfoil when Ellen Pao made her recent, unceremonious exit) announced the proposed changes—where else?—on Reddit. First, he laid out some underlying thinking:
One thing that isn’t up for debate is why Reddit exists. Reddit is a place to have open and authentic discussions. The reason we’re careful to restrict speech is because people have more open and authentic discussions when they aren’t worried about the speech police knocking down their door. When our purpose comes into conflict with a policy, we make sure our purpose wins.
Sure, sure. He proceeded to outline several types of content which are expressly verboten: spam, private information, inciting harm—with the caveat that “it’s ok to say ‘I don’t like this group of people.’ It’s not ok to say, ‘I’m going to kill this group of people’”—harassment and abuse of individuals or groups, “anything illegal” i.e. copyrighted stuff, and “sexually suggestive content featuring minors.” As for what to do about the hateful subreddits that make you despair for the fate of humanity? The proposal is not to scrub them, but rather to delist them, essentially:
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.
Long story short, /r/rapingwomen goes, but /r/coontown stays—albeit “reclassified.” “The content there is offensive to many, but does not violate our current rules for banning,” Huffman said in a follow-up comment. Somehow it does not qualify as a subreddit that “harasses, bullies, or abuses an individual or group of people.”
The Verge says the policy isn’t final, and they’re still taking input. (Bet some folks are gonna have some thoughts!) “This is what we will try, and if the hateful users continue to spill out into mainstream reddit, we will try more aggressive approaches,” Huffman noted in his initial post, and in a follow-up, he added: “We won’t formally change or policy until we have the tools to support it.” So it remains to seen what’ll actually come to pass, here.
Meanwhile, Ellen Pao kicked off her morning with a Washington Post op-ed, in which she argued that trolls are currently winning the fight for the Internet. She ought to know!
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