Is Reddit Poised to Succeed?

This doesn’t happen often, but I’m glad to say that I feel compelled to counter-balance my last post about Reddit with a measure of praise for CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman, who announced yesterday that Reddit intends to adopt new policies for content that may be hosted on the site. That last post, largely based on commentary from Sam Biddle at Gawker, was predicated on the idea that if Reddit cannot take the risk of losing the worst elements of its user-base, that it may not be able ultimately to mature in to the profitable and relevant business it wants to be.  But as stated in this article on Recode, Reddit appears ready to risk angering, and perhaps even losing, some of its users on the assumption that the majority of its community will support common-sensical boundaries of decency and legality with regard to prohibited content.   From Huffman’s statement regarding these new policies:

“As Reddit has grown, we’ve seen additional examples of how unfettered free speech can make Reddit a less enjoyable place to visit, and can even cause people harm outside of Reddit. Earlier this year, Reddit took a stand and banned non-consensual pornography[1] . This was largely accepted by the community, and the world is a better place as a result (Google and Twitter have followed suit). Part of the reason this went over so well was because there was a very clear line of what was unacceptable.”

Among the verboten, says Huffman, will be “anything actually illegal,” citing copyright infringement as an example, but this does not include (and neither should it) discussion of activities that are illegal; and it is certainly refreshing to hear a firm acknowledgement from a leader of this community that such lines of distinction actually exist.  I encourage you to read Huffman’s entire statement.

Needless to say, this editorial role is not easy, and Reddit won’t always get it right in either direction.  And that’s okay.  Why should they be expected to be any more perfect than any other enterprise? But for the moment, I think Huffman and the organization deserve kudos for turning an important corner with regard to the larger discussion about reasonable boundaries and the ethics of profiting from a free-for-all.  Even in the real world, the right of free speech does not necessarily protect some of very same activities—like inciting violence toward an individual—Huffman identifies as now off-limits for Reddit. But above all, it is notable that, as a private enterprise, the company has come to recognize that it is in no way obligated to provide a platform for harassment, privacy infringement, criminal behavior, or incitement to any of these activities, but that it does have an obligation to at least try to make these distinctions.  I hope the majority of Reddit’s community supports these efforts.

© 2015, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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2 comments

  • This is a great point and one that I’ve really thought is an important turning point for a community that I believe is indeed how a social media site *should* function. All rhetorical points about it being the “front-page of the Internet” aside, I believe it to be the one social media technology that represents how a Democratic meat space works.

    There are and will always be sub-reddits that work in a shady gray area of sorts. But I’ve generally always felt a certain respect and intellectuality on reddit that I’ve never ever seen on Facebook, twitter, tumblr or g+… People are allowed and encouraged to provide insightful feedback, even if it’s only for an altruistic end. People love reddit and being a part of something that is much about themselves as it is other people. I’m excited to be a part of that. I’m glad they’re taking steps to help creators in some way, that they’re drawing a line in the sand, as ambiguous as that might be.

  • Spam, illegal activity, “doxxing” (the publishing of someone’s private information), abusive or harassing content and sexual material involving minors are all verboten under the new policy.

    ‘doxxing’ is a dumb reddit/wikipedia thing which is mainly about allowing anonymous trolls to remain anonymous. Example would be the recent banning of an editor on wikipedia for revealing the name of the person posting fake porn images of her, and harassing her on other sites. Hosting sexual material involving minors will get them jailed. As will engaging in other forms of illegal activity.

    Time will tell, but my reading is that he’s saying that they’ll skim off the really rank crusty bits but the cesspit will essentially remain.

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