Reddit targets bullying, sexism and doxing with new anti-harassment policy

​Reddit is updating its policies about harassment, taking a more active role to protect individuals while hoping to maintain its laissez-faire approach to moderation and community building.

Recent changes aim to curb abuse on popular social media website

Reddit mascots are displayed at the company's headquarters in San Francisco in April 2014. Reddit's administrators posted an updated policy for harassment on its site on Friday. (Robert Galbraith/Reuters)

​Reddit is updating its policies about harassment, taking a more active role to protect individuals while hoping to maintain its laissez-faire approach to moderation and community building.

In a blog post Friday, site administrators wrote that they are changing their practices "to prohibit attacks and harassment of individuals through Reddit with the goal of preventing them."

They defined harassment 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."

Administrators praised the social media network's growth since its launch 10 years ago, but also addressed a growth in harassment directed at individuals.

They specifically mentioned the posting of people's private information, or links to people's private information, without their consent, also known as doxing.

'Promote ideas, protect people'

Reddit has taken several steps in recent months to address its more salacious elements as it grows in size, user base and mainstream attention.

Earlier this week, administrators posted an updated policy about how and when they remove content for legal reasons, including but not limited to copyright and trademark violations.

In March, it banned the posting of sexual content without consent, to curb sharing of revenge porn and celebrity nude photos. A mass leak of stolen celebrity nudes in 2014 exploded online after it hit Reddit and other online networks such as 4chan.

In January, Reddit reached out to its user base asking for feedback on the site. More than 16,800 respondents from more than 100 countries weighed in. While users reported over 90 per cent satisfaction with the site, there were complaints about a growing volume of harassment.

Women were twice as likely as men to report dissatisfaction, and "many of the concerns about the community dealt with gender or race."

"The number 1 reason redditors do not recommend the site — even though they use it themselves — is because they want to avoid exposing friends to hate and offensive content," Reddit's administrators wrote.

More than 80 per cent of the respondents identified as male.

"We allow a lot of content we don't agree with, we just want to make sure our platform makes everyone comfortable sharing their ideas, not just a few people," said Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao. "We believe less harassment means more ideas and more free expression, because people won't be afraid to participate."

Her comment currently has a negative vote rating.

Pao recently became a high-profile subject in the ongoing discussion surrounding sexism in the tech sector after she unsuccessfully sued her former employer, Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, for sexual discrimination.

Ellen Pao, interim CEO at Reddit, lost a lawsuit seeking damages from prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, alleging she was sexually harassed by male officials. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

Downvoted by redditors

In the blog post's linked discussion threads, redditors expressed dissatisfaction at the changes, with the most upvoted comments criticizing the vague nature of the policy changes and demanding more specific information about what kinds of activity would receive what kinds of punishments.

"What happens if someone is found to be breaking the rules? Do they get banned? Are there lesser offences which would be a warning versus a ban?" asked got milk4

"They're pandering to advertisers," said AltLogin202. "Posting meaningless feel-good drivel like this makes companies feel better about making ad buys."

User lamaskha77 was unhappy that some of the more controversial communities on Reddit are being threatened by the new policies, specifically naming a fat-shaming subreddit.

"/r/fatpeoplehate is just one Anderson Cooper special away from getting the axe," lamaksha77 wrote. "Once a company becomes this big and this mainstream, it is impossible to truly allow for free expression on one hand, and maximize revenue on the other."