It's been a tumultuous time for Reddit, where leadership shakeups and an angry group of users have brought the company's identity crisis into sharp relief. Should the site, which dubs itself "the front page of the Internet," be a place where freedom of speech, no matter how vile, reigns supreme? Or should it transition into a more reputable, less alienating and therefore more heavily regulated platform?
Today, freshly reappointed CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman took to Reddit's AMA forum to answer users' questions about the direction the site will take under his leadership.
Bottom line: Reddit is introducing a set of guidelines for what can't be said on the site. "A very clear line is important and our language should be precise," Huffman wrote.
Here are the new policies, which Huffman posted at the start of his AMA, in full:
These types of content are prohibited :
– 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.
Thanks to a previous post from Huffman on Tuesday – in which he wrote "neither Alexis nor I created reddit to be a bastion of free speech," and that "some communities currently on the platform should not be here at all" – this was largely expected.
After laying out the new policies, Huffman acknowledged the difficulty in maintaining Reddit's purpose as "a place to have open authentic discussions," while limiting what can and can't be said on the platform. A change is needed, he wrote, because "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."
Huffman listed a few of the subreddits that would be affected by the policies. The subreddit /r/rapingwomen will be banned, and /r/coontown will be reclassified in the “NSFW” portion of the site outlined above, while others will remain untouched. In the case of the popular marijuana-focused subreddit, /r/trees, Huffman says nothing is changing and that it's “totally fine.”
When asked about the S&M-themed subreddits /r/BDSMcommunity and /r/BDSM, he implied that they would be reclassified, but not banned. “I can tell you with confidence that these specific communities are not what we are referring to. Not even close,” he wrote. “But this is also why I prefer separation over banning. Banning is like capital punishment, and we don't want to do it except in the clearest of cases.”
The AMA revealed the tricky nature of drawing a clean line when it comes to interpreting broad terms such as "causing harm to others." "That's one of the things we need to be clear about," Huffman wrote, in response to a user who asked for a definition. "I think we have an intuitive sense of what this means (e.g. death threats, inciting rape), but before we release an official update to our policy we will spell this out as precisely as possible."
The policy changes are not yet official, and won't be until Reddit rolls out new tools for moderators.
Ultimately, Reddit's new policies are similar to its pre-existing, if less explicitly stated, ones.
"To be honest, I see nothing here that's really new to the existing content policy outside of "the common decency opt in," wrote a user.
To which Huffman responded: "Right. This isn't different from what we have right now, but we really need to enforce it better."
Related: Ellen Pao Resigns as CEO of Reddit