This week, Reddit admins have decided to ban five subreddit forum communities that, it says, are in breach of the site’s rules and regulations. Clicking through on the blacklisted subreddits now leads to a holding page announcing the ban. 

The five subreddits in question—four of which have under 5,000 members—cover controversial attitudes towards race, gender and weight. Reddit says that the forums broke the site’s new harassment rules, which were introduced last month. 

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What makes the move significant is that Reddit moderators are (in)famously lenient when it comes to policing the site, often reluctant to apply any kind of censorship on its users in favor of allowing free speech. Last year, it took a week for the forum that shared celebrity nudes from hacked iCloud accounts to get shut down.

“We want as little involvement as possible in managing these interactions but will be involved when needed to protect privacy and free expression, and to prevent harassment,” the Reddit team explained in the post announcing the bans. 

In a further posting, an admin elaborated on the decision: “We’re talking about men and women whose lives are being affected and worry for their safety every day, because people from a certain community on reddit have decided to actually threaten them, online and off, every day.”

Internet Rules

As the Internet continues its evolution from niche hacker playground to public square for the masses, the rules and attitudes around it are changing with it. Reddit now has investors to placate, and can no longer afford to leave its boards and forums largely unpoliced. 

With close to 30,000 comments on the original announcement, it’s clear that many Reddit users aren’t particularly comfortable with the new tactic—some are complaining about a lack of consistency, pointing out other subreddits that are as bad as the banned boards.

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Certain Redditors have also expressed opinions that moderators only take action against high-profile subreddits, rather than those committing the worst offenses. (There are some 9,000 forums in total across the Reddit site.) 

Few would argue that hateful harassment deserves no place on the modern Web, but the balance between respecting people and respecting freedom of expression isn’t always an easy one to judge—and it’s a challenge that Reddit’s management team are more familiar with than most. 

Lead photo by Jeff Keacher; Reddit logos photo by Eva Blue