Over 2,000 Communities Purged on Reddit Over Hateful Content

Reddit is joining the list of social media platforms who are purging elements driving harassment and hateful content with over 2,000 communities removed.

How does a community handle hate speech when the goal is to allow people to discuss things openly? It’s not a question that is the easiest to answer. Generally, the go-to way is to create a set of standards and rules for everyone to follow. After that, enforce those rules as the moderation team sees fit. For decades, this is a method that works quite well. Unfortunately, where things go sideways is when you have super large websites that encompasses all forms of discussion.

Indeed, it’s very straight forward to moderate a community of a few dozen people. You can have a small moderation team to sit back and make sure everyone gets along and follows the rules. Now, what happens when the community is hundreds of millions of users big? Suddenly, things grow incredibly complicated. It’s easy to think that one can simply scale up the moderation team accordingly. Unfortunately, in the real world, that doesn’t really work that well. It has even bumper sticker observations like, moderation at scale is impossible.

Compounding the problem is the backwards time we live in these days. For some, science is now just, like, your opinion man. Others think that racism should not only be considered as acceptable, but a patriotic duty. Then there is the current administration that seems to believe that high treason is totally acceptable and the president is above all laws and we should just accept it. This sort of chaos in our society has muddied the waters of what is acceptable by quite a bit.

More recently, however, social media has begun to start taking a stand on hateful content. All last month, Twitter began flagging posts made by the US President that encourages and glorifies violence. While the moderation can be spotty at times, Twitter did start taking steps towards curbing such unacceptable behaviour. Snapchat responded by refusing to promote Trump after hateful content was published on their platform. More recently, Twitch temporarily banned the president for hateful content being posted on their platform.

Of course, Trump supporters responded by doing what they do best, launch conspiracy theories about it all. Rather than admit responsibility for their actions, the supporters dressed the situation up as an all out assault on Conservative values and free speech. The insinuation in all of this being that death threats, hateful conduct, and racism is somehow part of conservative values. The US President himself launched an assault on Section 230 protections as well. While the order itself is legally questionable at best, it has since gotten backing from the Justice Department and Republican Senators. The irony in all of this, of course, being that killing Section 230 would actually lead to substantially more censorship due to increased liability for the platforms.

More recently, though, Reddit found itself grappling with similar problems on their site. Evidently, some communities were not only posting hate speech content, but members were also going around harassing other communities as well. Such conduct is a violation of the rules, but the problem is that some of these problem communities are packed with hardcore Trump supporters. The problem, however, is that the harassment and rule violations became so problematic that Reddit finally acted to remove these communities from their site altogether. In all, more than 2,000 communities were removed in a recent sweep. From The Verge:

Reddit will ban r/The_Donald, r/ChapoTrapHouse, and about 2,000 other communities today after updating its content policy to more explicitly ban hate speech. The policy update comes three weeks after Black Lives Matter protests led several popular Reddit forums to go dark temporarily in protest of what they called the company’s lax policies around hosting and promoting racist content. It marks a major reversal for a company whose commitment to free expression has historically been so strong that it once allowed users to distribute stolen nude photos freely on the site.

“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,” Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said in a call with reporters.

In a blog post that cites the company’s new rules, Huffman said users of the r/The_Donald subreddit had violated the site’s policies for years. (The site has no official connection to President Donald Trump, although he did do an Ask Me Anything there as a candidate in 2016.) “The community has consistently hosted and upvoted more rule-breaking content than average (Rule 1), antagonized us and other communities (Rules 2 and 8), and its mods have refused to meet our most basic expectations,” Huffman said.

Similarly, r/ChapoTrapHouse had also hosted content that violates the site’s rules, Huffman said. The subreddit is a spinoff of the popular left-wing podcast.

Reddit’s new policy begins with a first rule that requires users to “consider the human.” It reads:

Remember the human. Reddit is a place for creating community and belonging, not for attacking marginalized or vulnerable groups of people. Everyone has a right to use Reddit free of harassment, bullying, and threats of violence. Communities and people that incite violence or that promote hate based on identity or vulnerability will be banned.

In short, rules were put in place and those rules became enforced. This, of course, targets a very specific problem, so that would explain why it worked this time around.

If anything, this signals that social media platforms are increasingly taking a stand against such content in the first place. Yes, there is free speech to uphold, but consequences of certain kinds of speech is also being upheld as well. For some people, free speech means being free of the consequences of that speech. At this point, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find space to be free of the consequences of such speech.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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