In May, Reddit, the online discussion and social news forum, announced that it would be enforcing an anti-harassment policy while still trying to encourage free expression. The company revealed in a blog post that it was unhappy with harassing behaviour and had spent six months reviewing community guidelines. It also conducted surveys of users and found that they were unhappy with harassment on the site too.
Reddit said that it would take action such as banning users in response to harassment, which it defines as “systemic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone”. The company also said that harassing behaviour can include making someone fear for their safety or fear that the site isn’t safe to express their ideas.
Further to its harassment crackdown, Reddit began banning subreddits at the beginning of June. Subreddits are subforums of the site that are dedicated to a single topic and the site said areas would be banned if they “allow their communities to use the subreddit as a platform to harass individuals when moderators don’t take action”.
Five subreddits were banned by the site which included areas dedicated to hating overweight people, gamers and black people. Reddit said that other subforums would be allowed to exist as long as they did not harass other users in discussions. Ideas such as racism and misogyny would still have active discussions on the site, and even subreddits devoted to critiscing CEO Ellen Pao were allowed to continue based on Reddit’s free speech policy.
Redditors unhappy about the site’s clampdown fled to Swiss-based Reddit clone Voat after the subforums were banned in the hope of escaping further censorship from the site. Voat’s design and layout is closely copied from Reddit but calls subforums subverses rather than subreddits. Due to the sudden influx of users, Voat was forces for ask for donations in the form of bitcoins in order to the keep the site’s servers online. Voat’s founder and chief technology officer wrote “We are sorry to see Reddit change like this, in this way, in such an accelerated fashion. We would never have anticipated such events. We are not ready for such a huge influx of new users and haven’t prepared for such a large and sudden increase either”.
In an unfortunate turn of the events for the now-popular forum site, Voat was rejected by its web host for content that was deemed ‘politically incorrect’. The Swiss site’s servers were turned off on Friday without warning, meaning that it had to rely on a back up that had been created on a cloud hosting platform just hours previously.
When asked by the sites founder Atko why Voat and an unrelated blog had been removed, the host hosteurope.de replied that content had been an issue- “We have received significant information that the content on your server includes political incorrect parts that are unacceptable for us”. The host said that the site had to be deleted “due to the fact that we cannot keep bond of trust to you as our customer”. Atko has said that his eyes have been opened by the event, adding “I don’t know about you, but we are living in a weird world. We will have to carefully evaluate our long term options of providing a platform of free speech if we are to stay online. Your donation are what keeps us afloat”.
Despite the number of users now choosing Voat instead, other parts of Reddit have been unaffected by the clampdown or the resulting bans. There have been discussions about the events but other areas of the site have returned to normal.