Popular online forum Reddit adopted an anti-harassment policy, the latest in a wave of changes aimed to address concerns of the site’s abuse-enabling policies.
Reddit was once part of the Wild West of the internet where anonymous users relished in saying and doing much of what they wanted, often at the expense of others, with little or no restraint.
In a blog post Reddit CEO Ellen Pao co-wrote with other staff Thursday, the company announced it was moving away from its traditional laissez faire approach and instead is working on changes to better represent the company’s values for privacy, open expression and personal safety.
Under its new harassment policy, Reddit prohibits personal attacks and harassing behavior, defined as “systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone” that cause someone to believe their physical safety is at risk, or Reddit is not a welcoming platform to converse or express ideas. Reddit has also set up email accounts where users can report abuse.
“We’ve always encouraged freedom of expression by having a mostly hands-off approach to content shared on our site. Volunteer moderators determine and uphold rules for content in their subreddits, and we have stepped in when we see threats to our values of privacy and safety,” Reddit wrote.
“In the past 10 years we’ve seen how these policies have fostered cool and amazing conversations on Reddit…We’ve [also] seen many conversations devolve into attacks against individuals.”
The post noted the abuse isn’t localized on Reddit with users proliferating forums with links to personal contact or location information hosted on other platforms. Allowing such harassment to continue unchecked “stifles free speech” and endangers people’s safety.
Reddit and other social media platforms are under massive public pressure to address harassment that’s often amplified for marginalized groups such as women, people of color, and the LGBT community. Twitter, which has long been criticized for fostering abusive behavior, changed its policies to make it easier for people to report abuse to the site and to law enforcement.
Reddit in particular has drawn criticism for its insensitive policies toward women. Before adopting the new policy, Reddit surveyed 15,000 community members and found the prevalence of hateful and offensive comment was the top reason people didn’t recommend the site to others.
Earlier this year, the site banned circulating “revenge porn” or unauthorized nude photos usually of women posted by their former relationship partners. Reddit has also come under fire for permitting topic threads that promote domestic violence, with graphic images of real women who had been brutalized, that were not taken down from the site even after users complained.
But the new changes could help make sure abuse is nipped and doesn’t go unaddressed. “One of our basic rules is ‘Keep everyone safe.’ Being safe from threat enables people to express very personal views and experiences — and to help inform and change other people’s views,” Reddit staff wrote.
“This change will have no immediately noticeable impact on more than 99.99% of our users. It is specifically designed to prevent attacks against people, not ideas. It is our challenge to balance free expression of ideas with privacy and safety as we seek to maintain and improve the quality and range of discourse on Reddit.”