Reddit CEO Steve Huffman banned more than 2,000 subreddits Monday, including the pro-Donald-Trump subreddit r/the_donald and community dedicated to the left-wing political podcast r/chapotraphouse. The company also announced sweeping changes to its content policies that will allow it wider latitude to ban hateful content on the site.
The move is one of the most sweeping content moderation actions Reddit has ever taken, reminiscent of a wave of bannings under former CEO Ellen Pao in 2015. At the time, Pao banned r/fatpeoplehate and a handful of racist, transphobic, and misogynistic subreddits. For doing this, Pao was called a “Nazi” and the platform revolted; she resigned shortly after.
Most of the subreddits banned were small, with very few users. The largest were darkhumorandmemes, chapotraphouse, consumeproduct, darkjokecentral, gendercritical, cumtown, wojak, the_donald, imgoingtohellforthis2, and thenewright. Just 200 of the more than 2,000 banned subreddits had more than 10 weekly users.
Huffman says the newest wave of bans happened after a series of talks with moderators on the site. Its rules have been updated to note that “communities and users that promote hate based on identity or vulnerability will be banned. Huffman says that several large subreddits—and their volunteer moderators—have consistently refused to follow or enforce the rules.
“Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to support our communities by taking stronger action against those who try to weaponize parts of Reddit against other people,” Huffman wrote in his post announcing the move. “All communities on Reddit must abide by our content policy in good faith. We banned r/The_Donald because it has not done so, despite every opportunity. 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. Until now, we’ve worked in good faith to help them preserve the community as a space for its users—through warnings, mod changes, quarantining, and more. Though smaller, r/ChapoTrapHouse was banned for similar reasons: They consistently host rule-breaking content and their mods have demonstrated no intention of reining in their community.”
It’s worth noting that, while the_donald played an outsized role in the leadup to the 2016 election—with memes from the subreddit regularly being shared by Trump himself. That community became very good at upvoting posts to the front page, amplifying its messages. Last year, Huffman “quarantined” that subreddit, meaning that its posts did not show up on the front page, and users had to be logged in in order to view it. This effectively killed the subreddit—many users left once Reddit quarantined the_donald, and its influence on Reddit and the broader political space dissipated. As of this week, it had just 7,780 users per week, a paltry sum by Reddit standards, according to Huffman.
It is impossible to talk about Reddit’s content policies without talking about who is required to enforce them. Though Reddit has taken a more hands-on approach to moderating its platforms and banning communities that break its rules in recent years, the bulk of all moderation work is done by unpaid members of the community. This can be very labor intensive and is unpaid work that is crucial to keeping Reddit as a business and a platform running. Moderators have wide latitude to set the tone of debate in any community, and have a lot of power over what sort of content is ultimately successful there.
Kat Lo, a former Reddit moderator who is working on a PhD in content moderation, told Motherboard in 2017 that these unpaid moderators are carrying a huge burden for the site.
“A lot of moderators burn out. Well, we call it ‘burning out’—they’re fatigued, they’re demoralized, and they have an aversion to doing it,” she said. “But the things people are describing are symptoms of trauma. Moderators determine a lot of culture that happens on the internet and they do hold a lot of power, but simultaneously they hold a lot of trauma.”
Moderators of some communities have allowed its members to break Reddit’s rules, and, historically, some moderators have had an antagonistic relationship with Reddit’s corporate employees as the company has gotten more involved with the day-to-day goings on in many of its most popular subreddits.
"To be clear, views across the political spectrum are allowed on Reddit—but all communities must work within our policies and do so in good faith, without exception," Huffman wrote.
Already, users are calling this "the great ban."