Reddit has announced new policies to crack down on harassment. It’s not given specific details of the consequences, but it has prompted heated debate among users who believe unrestricted speech should be paramount.
The site says it has based its decision on a survey of 15,000 users, as well as changes in the nature of harassment such as people being attacked across multiple sites, or people’s family members being dragged into an issue.
According to reddit, there’s an irony by which its open nature is in fact limiting free expression because users are afraid to take part in discussions because they are scared by threats to their personal safety.
The new policy is said to be “specifically designed to prevent attacks against people, not ideas.” Reddit hasn’t revealed exactly how that policy will be enacted, other than to say it will ban harassment, defined as:
Systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person (1) conclude that reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation, or (2) fear for their safety or the safety of those around them.
While reddit hasn’t spelled things out in detail, the most common user interpretation seems to be that reddit’s own staff will now decide when to delete posts, rather than leaving it up to the user who moderates a particular subreddit (page).
Opponents of the changes seem to fall into two camps. Some believe deleting any posts (beyond those which are inherently illegal to publish) breaches the entire concept of reddit, by which the prominence of posts is determined entirely by the community voting system. A common complaint is that such policies are pandering to potential advertisers.
Others have argued that while the principle of the anti-harassment policy may be reasonable, it needs to be applied carefully. For example, several users responding to reddit’s announcement have pondered whether a subreddit devoted to mocking images of fat people is inherently considered harassment, or if the rule only applies to specific attacks on specific reddit users.