The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Reddit’s new privacy policy bans sharing nude images without consent

Reddit, the site that just last fall hosted a trove of stolen nude images of celebrities in its forums, banned “involuntary pornography” from its site on Tuesday in an update to its privacy policy, which goes into effect in early March.

The policy change, which was first reported by the New York Times, adds the following paragraph to the company’s privacy policy:

“reddit is committed to your privacy. If you believe that someone has submitted, without your permission, to reddit a link to a photograph, video, or digital image of you in a state of nudity or engaged in any act of sexual conduct, please contact us (, and we will expedite its removal as quickly as possible. reddit prohibits the posting of such content without consent.”

Reddit also appointed a site-wide community manager, and plans a tutorial series for subreddit monitors, it said in a post explaining the changes.

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian said in an e-mail to The Washington Post that the policy change came after a leadership shift at the company in November, when Yishan Wong stepped down as CEO and Ellen Pao became the interim chief executive. “This was something we decided on as a team, because we know how important user privacy has always been to the reddit userbase,” he wrote, adding, “we want to grow even larger and in order to do so, we need to make it the best platform for sharing authentic discussions and news we can.”

Along with the leadership changes, Reddit also announced last fall that it had raised $50 million in venture capital. Reddit is currently an independent corporation; its largest shareholder is Advance Publications, the parent company of Conde Nast.

Depending on how the policy is enforced, the change could potentially indicate a significant shift in Reddit’s handling of some objectionable content. The policy’s wording suggests that Reddit will remove photos in violation of the ban individually, at the request of the subject of the photograph, and does not address how the site will enforce the ban against users or subreddits that repeatedly violate it. Reddit has a long history of being famously laissez-faire on the issue of stolen nude images, among other things.

The site has just five hard rules: Don’t spam, don’t engage in voter manipulation, don’t post personal information, don’t break the site, and don’t post child pornography or sexually suggestive images of minors. The site also says it intervenes in what users post or link to when the law requires it. When Reddit eventually removed the nude celebrity photos last fall, it did so under a copyright argument, and not privacy.

[Related: How copyright became the best defense against revenge porn]

When asked about the relationship between Reddit’s response to the stolen photos last fall and today’s privacy policy changes, Ohanian wrote that “Reddit has set the standard for our social media peers when it comes to respecting user privacy,” adding, “we missed a chance last year to be leaders, but we’ve learned from it.”

Reddit has long maintained that its commitment to free speech is deeply connected to the site’s popularity — Reddit says it has about 160 million regular users around the world. Lots of people use Reddit for different reasons, that have nothing to do with anything vaguely controversial: catching up on international news, engaging with an interest group, or just browsing adorable pictures of baby animals, for instance.

But Reddit’s seeming reluctance to adopt policies banning clearly objectionable material in the name of maintaining that aggressive openness has led to some problems for the site in the past.

For example: Reddit’s rule banning sexually explicit images of minors was added  just two years ago. (Before that, the site dealt with sexualized images of minors on a case-by-case basis.) The ban followed a Gawker piece that identified one of Reddit’s most notorious trolls, Violentacrez, who among other things founded the /r/jailbait subreddit. As the name more than implies, “jailbait” collected sexually suggestive images of underage girls.

“We understand that this might make some of you worried about the slippery slope from banning one specific type of content to banning other types of content. We’re concerned about that too, and do not make this policy change lightly or without careful deliberation,” Reddit said in its post explaining the ban.

Reddit took similar care this fall to underline that it doesn’t see itself as being in the business of banning objectionable content unless it violates some other law or policy, when it banned the subreddit that hosted hundreds of stolen, nude images of famous women. In a blog post titled “Every Man Is Responsible For His Own Soul” former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong wrote, “we uphold the ideal of free speech on reddit as much as possible not because we are legally bound to, but because we believe that you – the user – has the right to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, and that it is your responsibility to do so.”

“We understand the harm that misusing our site does to the victims of this theft, and we deeply sympathize. Having said that, we are unlikely to make changes to our existing site content policies in response to this specific event,” the post adds.

The new policy shift comes at a time when a small — and increasingly angry — subset of its user base has accused the site of censoring them under a secret corporate policy with seemingly little to no evidence, as The Post’s Caitlin Dewey explained last week:

“On Feb. 8, a Redditor using the unsubtle handle redditiscorrupt0 posted a lengthy, and popular, diatribe in Reddit’s /r/conspiracy, claiming that a secret “cabal” of moderators was censoring speech along “radical feminist and social justice” lines. That same day, a group of other disgruntled Redditors started a forum called r/subredditcancer — the better, they said, to document the anti-misogyny, anti-racism, pro-censorship conspiracy taking over Reddit.”

More reading: 

The ‘Reddit exodus’ is a perfect illustration of the state of free speech on the Web

How a pro-rape forum actually brought out the best in Reddit

Does Reddit still have a child porn problem?