In a Reddit post on Wednesday afternoon, the team in charge of the link-sharing community and notoriously deep rabbit hole of procrastination just announced that they will ban subreddits that facilitate harassment.
The post isn't clear about how it will be determined that a community "break[s] our reddit rules based on their harassment of individuals," but Reddit has already banned five subreddits: /r/fatpeoplehate, a now-defunct community that gave Redditors a much-needed space for hating fat people, along with/r/hamplanethatred, /r/transfags, /r/neofag, and /r/shitniggerssay. (Of those five, fatpeoplehate was the only one with over 5,000 members.)
This announcement brought up long-running tensions between Reddit the company and its user base, who are generally adverse to any kind of censorship. Reddit has long been a bastion of free and chaotic speech, and that philosophy has spawned weirdo collective art projects and aggressive, envelop-pushing absurdism along with subreddits devoted to racism or "creepshots" of unsuspecting women, among other content that has drawn criticism.
As of this writing, 52 percent of users have downvoted the announcement post, and many of the top-voted comments reflect a belief that Reddit has lost credibility as a bastion of free speech. The site took its first step toward banning content that wasn't technically illegal in 2011 when it removed /r/jailbait, a community that posted scantily-clad, though not nude, photos of underage girls.
Ellen Pao, current Reddit CEO, told TIME last month, "It's not our site's goal to be a completely free-speech platform. We want to be a safe platform and we want to be a platform that also protects privacy at the same time."
Former CEO Yishan Wong felt differently, however, writing privately during his time at the company that Reddit was "not going to ban distasteful subreddits" or remove anything legal at all, even if company brass found it personally offensive.
Pao isn't popular among a wide swath of Redditors. In a discussion on the site of what makes her so terrible, a user named ilovecreamsoda claimed that she screens employees for political beliefs that are similar to hers, and that "she wants to turn Reddit into a feminist hivemind."
Of course, while the Constitution protects free speech, Reddit is a platform owned by a company, and that company can decide what it does and does not want to put on its site. Facebook does this when it openly bans hate speech and harassment, and Reddit may be leaning more in that direction.
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