Reddit And Violent Speech: Can Hate Be Banned?

There is no clear consensus on how to draw the line between free speech and hate speech.
11/06/2017 11:15 am ET Updated Nov 06, 2017

When the media talks about social media and the impact hate speech and Russian political tactics are having on civil society, they list the best-known social networks.

However, one of the most popular and provocative sites is often left off the list, and out of the conversation.

Reddit lists itself as “the front page” of the internet and has in recent years grown to be a popular and powerful social network.

With around 300 million monthly users globally, Reddit is now the fourth most visited website in the U.S. and eighth in the world.

Reddit said in a statement on the site that it was taking steps to clarify how it moderated posts. “In particular, we found that the policy regarding ‘inciting’ violence was too vague,” the post said in part.

The changes were meant to bring site content in line with its values.

Among the sub-reddits that were pulled down ― a list of sites that cover controversial topics ― were:

  • /r/far_right
  • /r/actualjournalism (a racist sub).
  • /r/Nazi
  • /r/racoonsareni**ers
  • /r/DylannRoofInnocent
  • /r/ReallyWackyTicTacs (a gore subreddit)
  • /r/whitesarecriminals
  • /r/Polacks
  • /r/SexWithDogs
  • /r/SexWithHorses
  • /r/bestiality
  • /r/picsofcaninevaginas
  • /r/zoogold
  • /r/zoophilia
  • /r/picsofdeadkids
  • /r/picsofcaninedicks
  • /r/tailbait
  • /r/horsecock
  • /r/horsevagina
  • /r/killthejews
  • /r/selfharmpics

But within the Reddit community, there is no clear consensus on how to draw the line between free speech and hate speech.

Here are two conversations on the site debating the issue, the first one about the phrase kys (which stands for “kill your self”).

serrabellum: How will you deal with r/incels? They’re pretty violent and like to tell each other to kill themselves.
landoflobsters Great question! Context is key...king here. If a user reports a “kys” comment to us, we’ll have to review the context closely before we make a determination.
MylesGarrettsAnkles They have actively advocated for turning women into chattel slaves used for sex and glorified Elliot Rodgers, who murdered women that turned him down.
Tkdestroyer1 What you have described does not fall under the definition of violence, because violence is physical. Words are not violence.

Reddit is owned by a who’s who of boldface names. Its single largest shareholder is Advance Publications, the parent company of Condé Nast. Its other investors include Marc Andreessen, Peter Thiel, Sam Altman, Ron Conway, Snoop Dogg, Jared Leto and Josh Kushner, the brother of White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner.

So far none of these high-profile investors has objected publicly to Reddit’s hosting of subreddits called “WhiteNationalism,” “rapeisfun,” “BurningKids,” “cutefemalecorpses,” and so on.

Reddit spokeswoman Anna Soellner told the New York Times the site constantly assesses its content policy. “We strive to be a welcoming, open platform for all by trusting our users to maintain an environment that cultivates genuine conversation,” she said.

And while attempts to curtail hate speech are certainly long overdue, the real battles going on inside of Reddit may be far from over. Co-founder Alexis Ohanian has been uncharacteristically silent as these changes rolled out, posting instead about his new son ― Alexis Ohanian Jr. ― while he remains on paternity leave with fiancée Serena Williams.

And inside Reddit’s more mainstream pages, questions about how Reddit will further address what some users describe as objections to content abound, with much of the conversation focused on the popular but controversial r/The_Donald subreddit.

AngelaMotorman So ... The_Donald is gone, right?
vikinick I can think of at least 50 comments and posts in that shithole that glorified Charlottesville as well as killing Muslims.
Mutt1223 Admins give the_Donald a pass because they’re too chickenshit to stir up drama unless a major news outlet starts reporting on some dark corner of reddit. The_Donald encourages violence, regularly goes on witch hunts, upvotes their own content with bots, brigades other subs, and generally makes reddit a terrible place to visit yet they get a pass because they’re political.

Steve Huffman, Reddit’s CEO and co-founder, has announced that he’ll be doing an AMA (ask me anything) conversation with the Reddit community later this week, so it’s entirely possible the conversation about how to draw the line between free speech and hate speech will get a public forum when he opens the site to a public conversation on the topic.

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