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New CEO, new rules: Can Reddit be tamed?

Reddit's management is setting new rules on what its users can say publicly, but privately groups likely to upset many people will still be allowed.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Earlier on July 16h, Reddit's former CEO Ellen Pao said, "The trolls are winning the battle for the Internet." Later in the day. Reddit co-founder and new CEO Steve Huffman, announced that Reddit's management is "considering a set of additional restrictions on what people can say on Reddit -- or at least say on our public pages," while still preserving "open and authentic discussion."

Reddit will be taking some subreddit groups, not just the sexual ones, private.
Will this stop the trolls? We'll see.

Here is what Huffman is proposing to ban completely:

  • Spam
  • Anything illegal (i.e. things that are actually illegal, such as copyrighted material. Discussing illegal activities, such as drug use, is not illegal)
  • Publication of someone's private and confidential information
  • Anything that incites harm or violence against an individual or group of people (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.")
  • Anything that harasses, bullies, or abuses an individual or group of people (these behaviors intimidate others into silence)
  • Sexually suggestive content featuring minors

He went on there are other kinds of content that will be "classified." These are:

  • Adult content must be flagged as NSFW (Not Safe For Work). Users must opt into seeing NSFW communities. This includes pornography, which is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.
  • 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.

What does this mean in practice? Will hate groups such as Coontown and Gas The Kikes and objectionable NSFW sites such as PicsOfDeadKids will be allowed to continue? We don't know for sure.

We do know that they were allowed to flourish in the first place because, as Huffman wrote, "I didn't have time to pass judgment on everything, so I decided to judge nothing." Now that Huffman is back he realizes that this, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," policy didn't work.

Huffman gave some specific example of upcoming subreddit changes. "r/rapingwomen will be banned. They are encouraging people to rape." That subreddit is still up at this time. He continued, "/r/coontown will be reclassified. The content there is offensive to many, but does not violate our current rules for banning"

Huffman is also giving some general guidance in his answers to what these new rules will look like. For example, the following would be considered harassment, and thus reason for Reddit to "step in."

    • Going into self help subreddits for people dealing with serious emotional issues and telling people to kill themselves.
    • Messaging serious threats of harm to users towards themselves or their families.
    • Less serious attacks -- but ones that are unprovoked and sustained and go beyond simply being an annoying troll. An example would be following someone from subreddit to subreddit repeatedly and saying "you're an idiot" when they aren't engaging you or instigating anything. This is not only harassment but spam, which is also against the rules.
    • Finding users' external social media profiles and taking harassing actions such as doxxing users or threatening to doxx them. (Doxxing is revealing someone's real world identity and information (phone number, address, family member names) on the Internet.)

          Huffman added, "It's important to recognize that this is not about being annoying. You get into a heated conversation and tell someone to f**k off? No one cares. But if you follow them around for a week to tell them to fuck off, despite their moving on -- or tell them you're going to find and kill them, you're crossing a line and that's where we step in."

          He also stated that harboring unpopular ideologies is not a reason for banning. In answering another question, Huffman wrote, "Banning is like capital punishment, and we don't want to do it except in the clearest of cases."

          Huffman was also asked. "How much of the push toward removing "ugly" elements of Reddit comes from the motivation to monetize Reddit?" He replied "Zero." Reddit users don't believe him. An hour later, his reply have been down-voted more than a thousand times. In an answer to another question, Huffman explicitly said, Reddit doesn't want to profit from "offensive' subreddits.

          Earlier efforts to reform Reddit by Pao led to a revolt by Reddit's unpaid moderators. Pao then resigned.

          Reddit's chief engineer Bethanye Blount resigned before this announcement. She told re/code, "I feel like there are going be some big bumps on the road ahead for Reddit. Along the way, there are some very aggressive implied promises being made to the community -- in comments to mods, quotes from board members -- and they're going to have some pretty big challenges in meeting those implied promises."

          In an answer to a question about Reddit's promise of free speech, Huffman replied, "the concept of free speech is important to us, but completely unfettered free speech can cause harm to others and additionally silence others." This statement was down-voted by almost 2,000 readers within two hours.

          Will Huffman be able to reform Reddit? Will investors continue to want to support a site with private questionable groups now that its dirty laundry is on display? Will Reddit users and moderators continue to make the site the tenth most popular website in the U.S. with these changes? Stay tuned.

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