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Reddit CEO Steve Huffman Changes Content Policy, Lists Bannable Offenses

Spam, doxxing and illegal activity are among the now-restricted types of content on Reddit.

Eva Blue / Flickr

Since he was brought back to take the CEO job, a good chunk of what Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman has said publicly has focused on tightening Reddit’s content policies.

In his “Ask Me Anything” session on the site today, Huffman provided concrete details on how the site will handle content moderation, laying down some specific restrictions.

Spam, illegal activity, “doxxing” (the publishing of someone’s private information), abusive or harassing content and sexual material involving minors are all verboten under the new policy. Additionally, adult content will require a NSFW tag and a user login in order to be viewed; such content “will not appear in search results or public listings and will generate no revenue for Reddit.”

In the comments, Huffman specified the types of subreddits that could and should be banned, drawing a line between content that encourages off-site behavior and reprehensible-but-still-kosher conversation topics.

“/r/rapingwomen will be banned. They are encouraging people to rape,” Huffman wrote in one reply. “/r/coontown [an anti-black hate subreddit] will be reclassified. The content there is offensive to many, but does not violate our current rules for banning.”

Reddit’s content moderation policies have long been criticized for giving a free pass to hate speech, harassers and other seedy communities that have found a home on the site. The site has also struggled to manage a community of millions of users, and some of the most hardcore users resist what they perceive as Reddit policing free speech. In an op-ed published today in the Washington Post, Reddit’s former interim CEO Ellen Pao (who Huffman replaced) elaborated on this tension.

“Expecting Internet platforms to eliminate hate and harassment is likely to disappoint. As the number of users climbs, community management becomes ever more difficult,” Pao said. “And for a community looking for clear, evenly applied rules, mistakes are frustrating. They lead to a lack of trust.”

Pao goes on to talk about the problem of “automation,” or using technological tools to filter out content deemed unacceptable by the service. Talking with Wired shortly after Pao resigned from Reddit, board member Sam Altman suggested the company should lean on tech-focused content policing methods more heavily in the future.

Read Huffman’s full statement below:

We started Reddit to be—as we said back then with our tongues in our cheeks—“The front page of the Internet.” Reddit was to be a source of enough news, entertainment, and random distractions to fill an entire day of pretending to work, every day. Occasionally, someone would start spewing hate, and I would ban them. The community rarely questioned me. When they did, they accepted my reasoning: “because I don’t want that content on our site.”

As we grew, I became increasingly uncomfortable projecting my worldview on others. More practically, I didn’t have time to pass judgement on everything, so I decided to judge nothing.

So we entered a phase that can best be described as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. This worked temporarily, but once people started paying attention, few liked what they found. A handful of painful controversies usually resulted in the removal of a few communities, but with inconsistent reasoning and no real change in policy.

One thing that isn’t up for debate is why Reddit exists. Reddit is a place to have open and authentic discussions. The reason we’re careful to restrict speech is because people have more open and authentic discussions when they aren’t worried about the speech police knocking down their door. When our purpose comes into conflict with a policy, we make sure our purpose wins.

As Reddit has grown, we’ve seen additional examples of how unfettered free speech can make Reddit a less enjoyable place to visit, and can even cause people harm outside of Reddit. Earlier this year, Reddit took a stand and banned non-consensual pornography[1] . This was largely accepted by the community, and the world is a better place as a result (Google and Twitter have followed suit). Part of the reason this went over so well was because there was a very clear line of what was unacceptable.

Therefore, today we’re announcing that we’re considering a set of additional restrictions on what people can say on Reddit—or at least say on our public pages—in the spirit of our mission.

These types of content are prohibited [1]:
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
Anything that harasses, bullies, or abuses an individual or group of people (these behaviors intimidate others into silence)
Sexually suggestive content featuring minors
There are other types of content that are specifically classified:
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.

We’ve had the NSFW classification since nearly the beginning, and it’s worked well to separate the pornography from the rest of Reddit. We believe there is value in letting all views exist, even if we find some of them abhorrent, as long as they don’t pollute people’s enjoyment of the site. Separation and opt-in techniques have worked well for keeping adult content out of the common Redditor’s listings, and we think it’ll work for this other type of content as well.

No company is perfect at addressing these hard issues. We’ve spent the last few days here discussing and agree that an approach like this allows us as a company to repudiate content we don’t want to associate with the business, but gives individuals freedom to consume it if they choose. This is what we will try, and if the hateful users continue to spill out into mainstream reddit, we will try more aggressive approaches. Freedom of expression is important to us, but it’s more important to us that we at reddit be true to our mission.

[1] This is basically what we have right now. I’d appreciate your thoughts. A very clear line is important and our language should be precise.

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