But in an apparent reversal of that policy, and in an unprecedented effort to clean up its long-suffering image, Reddit has just banned five “questionable subreddits.”
The site permanently removed the forums Wednesday afternoon for harassing specific, named individuals, a spokesperson said. Of the five, two were dedicated to fat-shaming, one to transphobia, one to racism and one to harassing members of a progressive video game site.
All five subreddits were warned previously, the company said. And administrators will watch the site carefully to make sure those five subreddits don’t pop up again.
“We want to be open about our involvement: We will ban subreddits that allow their communities to use the subreddit as a platform to harass individuals when moderators don’t take action,” the company said in a statement. “We’re banning behavior, not ideas.”
What kind of behavior, you ask? These are the five subreddits that were banned.
In their own words: “Absolutely NO FAT SYMPATHY.”
Chief offense: A clearinghouse for lifted photos of overweight people from around the Web. The only rules for stealing and posting these photos — beside the aforementioned ban on “sympathy” — was that submissions include no identifying information.
Founded: October 2013
In their own words: “We are a Pro-Health sub! No ifs, buts, or coconuts. With that being said, if you’re a delusional lardmuffin this sub may be a bit offensive.”
Chief offense: Posting pictures of overweight people, frequently from Facebook, Flickr and similar photo-sharing sites, and relentlessly making fun of them in vicious comment threads. One recent photo showed a smiling couple standing outside with the caption “what a happy little hamily.”
In their own words: “Tired of transgender people and their degeneracy? Disgusted by trans things? Hate the intolerant and whiny transgender community always playing the oppression card? This sub is for you. We aim to ridicule and mock the transgender community because they deserve to be laughed at.”
Chief offense: A running “tranny of the day” feature that pulled photos of individuals from Reddit’s pro-trans subs for the purpose of harassing them. “Mocking photos of [trans people] is okay,” the subreddit’s rules said, “but use imgur instead of linking to their submission if its on Reddit.” The purpose of that work-around, of course, is to avoid anyone discovering it. r/Transf–s also hosted threads on topics like “the best way to tell a [trans person] to kill themselves.”
Founded: December 2013
In their own words: “We generally allow anything. Anyone is welcome to post here and talk s—, or have a serious discussion. Here freedom of expression is sacred — not a lousy principle worked around to protect untenable ideologies and crybabies.”
Chief offense: Unlike the other banned subreddits, which targeted broad groups of people, r/Neof– had a narrower purpose: Harassing members of NeoGAF, a “civil, inclusive” gaming site, and its founder, Tyler Malka. Among other things, members posted pictures of GAF moderators and mocked their appearance.
Founded: July 2012
In their own words: “Listen to stuff n—–s say, both on Reddit and anywhere else on the web.”
Chief offense: SNS was a member of “The Chimpire,” a disgusting and wide-ranging network of racist subreddits that the Southern Poverty Law Center named the Web’s worst earlier this year. While the others are regrettably still around, SNS seems to have been banned for copy/pasting things black Redditors said in other forums and then going after them.
Notably, none of these forums were in violation of the Reddit rules even three or four weeks ago: The ban on “attacks and harassment of individuals” was just instituted by CEO Ellen Pao in mid-May. These five subreddits were the first to be axed, a spokesman said, because of the volume of user complaints.
Unsurprisingly, a vocal contingent of Redditors aren’t taking the changes well: “Reddit increases censorship,” read one post on r/freespeech, while forums like r/mensrights and r/opieandanthony theorized they would be next.
But as I wrote in February when the Reddit-knockoff Voat began flying the “anything goes” flag, that attitude — and this crackdown — is actually pretty indicative of the state of “free speech” on the Web. A number of sites that started out as absolutists have realized — particularly as they grow more mainstream — that they also have other corporate and moral responsibilities. If you restrict absolutely nothing, you get child porn. If you define “abuse” too broadly, you watch users leave in droves. Even Christopher Poole, the founder of 4chan, cracked down on his cesspool towards the end (before leaving the site in January, totally exhausted).
Racist and hateful and harassing speech won’t disappear with these subreddits, of course. Already, a number of them have made the leap to Voat.
What they don’t realize, however, is that if Voat grows more popular, it will also need to begin cleaning house. And then, in the same tired cycle, someone else will deservedly kick them out.