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Date: 2018-04-12

Users Are Up In Arms Over Reddit

Racism has always been a touchy subject, one that can go south in a matter of seconds.

But, Steve Huffman, Reddit's CEO, clarifies – for him it's more a radical approach to free speech on the internet – which has once again found him in a controversy surrounding Reddit's policy on moderation. In a Reddit thread announcing the platform's 2017 transparency report findings, Reddit identified and listed close to 1,000 Russian propaganda accounts that have all been banned.

“I need clarification on something: Is obvious open racism, including slurs, against Reddit's rules or not?” asked Reddit user Chlomyster. “It’s not,” Huffman, who operates on Reddit under his original handle “Spez,” responded.

Huffman elaborates on the point by adding:

"On Reddit, the way in which we think about speech is to separate behaviour from beliefs. This means on Reddit there will be people with beliefs different from your own, sometimes extremely so. When users actions conflict with our content policies, we take action."

Our approach to governance is that communities can set appropriate standards around language for themselves. Many communities have rules around freedom of speech that are more restrictive than our own, and we fully support those rules.

This is controversial and has many Reddit users outraged that communities like the Trump-centric r/The_Donald are allowed to walk up to and over the line of racism repeatedly without any site action. A lot of Reddit users responded to Huffman by pointing out that hate speech does constitute behaviour in a good way, and that communities like r/The_Donald directly participated in conversation and organising of events like the Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist rally which lead to the death of Heather Heyer. This conversation around Reddit's light moderation has been simmering for quite some time.

Other social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube all have hate speech policies claiming that if a user oversteps their boundaries it can result in suspensions or bans.
"I guess I’m a little late to the party, but I banned him. We rarely ban non-spammers, but hate-speech used in that context is not something we tolerate," Huffman wrote in a thread nine years ago about banning a user over hate speech.

"This isn’t any change in policy: we’ve always banned hate speech, and we always will. It’s not up for debate. You can bitch and moan all you like, but I and my team aren’t going to be responsible for encouraging behaviours that lead to hate," Huffman wrote in response to another user in the same thread.

Reddit still takes hardline stances on calls to violence, threats, doxxing, and other activities that may lead to real-world harm. That is where hate speech typically falls, which is still not illegal in the US, thanks to First Amendment protection. However, in 2015 Reddit banned the fat-shaming community r/fatpeoplehate and the openly racist community r/coontown. Infamous situations prior to that included the banning of the community sharing leaked celebrity nudes and a community dedicated to sharing so-called "creepshots" of underage girls.

Reddit's approach seems to be focused less on sweeping rules and more on case-by-case evaluations. This will do very little for critics who want to ban the community like r/The_Donald or make the use of racial slurs a punishable offence. It seems that Huffman is taking the free speech absolutism approach of letting sunlight disinfect the world of extremist viewpoints, or rather to offload the work of subreddit admins and site moderators when necessary.

"Zuckerberg is sitting over here getting grilled for not removing hate-speech fast enough due to AI limitations and yet you find yourself passing hate speech off as okay because you think it’s not a dangerous thing to allow on your platform or because you expect t_d [r/The_Donald] to self-moderate and hopefully if they troll long enough they’ll die out on their own." wrote Reddit user PostimusMaximus.

Outside of hate speech, Reddit has had to make recent changes to adapt and grow with the internet, including removing communities that focus on drug use, sex work, and illegal activities.

What if something bad happens in the future? Or by allowing hate speech that leads to another death? Whatever the approach might be from Huffman, it's Reddit users that seem to be the most directly affected by the proliferation of hate speech on the platform.

What do you think? Leave us a comment below.

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