A new code of conduct for the internet community Reddit was introduced Thursday, but the new rules leave many blatantly racist and sexist forums untouched.
The new code outright bans spam, child pornography, posts inciting harm and the publication of private information.
'Subreddits' — smaller forums within the larger Reddit community that can be created by any user and are named based on each subreddits URL — can be removed on this basis.
"/r/rapingwomen will be banned. They are encouraging people to rape," wrote Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, replying to questions about his announcement, which was posted on the site.
The subreddits /r/PhilosophyofRape and /r/coontown, for example, will not be banned but "will be reclassified."
I didn't have time to pass judgement on everything, so I decided to judge nothing.
- Reddit CEO Steve Huffman
Offending content that doesn't merit being banned will be hidden from users, and will specifically ask people whether they want to see the offending material. As has been Reddit's policy in the past, the website will ask if the reader is older than 18 should they click on a link that contains "not safe for work" material, like nudity or extreme violence.
The shift means that subreddits which have been accused of racism, including ones with names like /r/BlackCrime, /r/GreatApes, and /r/TreyvonMartin, will likely be hidden but not banned so long as they don't explicitly encourage violence.
For most of Reddit's history, the company has been defiant about moderating its content.
"As we grew, I became increasingly uncomfortable projecting my worldview on others," Huffman wrote in the announcement. "More practically, I didn't have time to pass judgement on everything, so I decided to judge nothing."
More than 10,000 subreddits
Huffman co-founded the company in 2005, expanding Reddit over the years to include a small team of employees. They currently only have 71 staff members to maintain the more than 10,000 active communities.
Among those communities are many groups that have been accused of virulent harassment — especially harassment aimed at women — and multiple white supremacy groups.
These policy changes will not be implemented immediately, however, as Huffman wants to provide the site's moderators, the vast majority of which are volunteers, sophisticated tools. He estimates that "it won't take six months" to have them built and running.
When asked to what extent these changes are being implemented to improve the site's perception by advertisers, Huffman replied: "Zero."
No 'exchange of ideas'
Reactions to the announcement were polarized with /r/coontown celebrating their continued existence while others were deeply critical, arguing that Reddit has a responsibility to remove offensive communities.
Reddit isn’t obligated to provide space for racists and misogynists to congregate, organize and recruit. The company is choosing to do that.— @femfreq
Before Huffman could even answer any questions, many Reddit users posted long comments pointing out the need for greater moderation.
"The basement of hate subs is no longer a containment. It's a lounge with a beacon. There is no 'exchange of ideas/honest discussion' going on," wrote user mach-2, and moderator of the subreddit /r/offmychest.
"We banned outright bigotry and hatred against any group of protected classes [from /r/offmychest]. People revolted when they could no longer make threads about how much they hated blacks or Muslims or women."
Huffman replaced interim CEO Ellen Pao last week, who resigned after the company fired a popular liaison between Reddit's management and its community.
New harassment policy
A month earlier, the community conflicted with management when the company began banning offensive subreddits, such as /r/fatpeoplehate, based on a new harassment policy instituted on May 14.
Pao discussed the difficulty of moderating a community as large Reddit without alienating it in a Washington Post editorial.
"If mistakes are made 0.01 per cent of the time, that could mean tens of thousands of mistakes. And for a community looking for clear, evenly applied rules, mistakes are frustrating, " she wrote, regarding the difficulty of implementing uniform rules.
Another ex-CEO, Yishan Wong, commented on a post left by Huffman on Tuesday, taking responsibility for maintaining a "free speech policy" during his two year tenure.
"I didn't anticipate what (some) redditors would decide to do with freedom. Reddit has become a lot bigger — yes, a lot better — AND a lot worse," he wrote.
Forums impacted by these changes, /r/WhiteRights for instance, have begun asking that users move from Reddit to a competitor, Voat. The Swiss upstart claims that in June they had 700,000 unique visitors, with more moving over in recent weeks.
Voat describes itself as a "censorship-free community platform," though its web hosting provider, Host Europe, shut down its servers in late June for "publicizing incitement of people, as well as abusive, insulting, and youth-endangering content."