Hate Speech is the New Porn: Reddit’s New Content Moderation Policy is an Odd Mix

nsfw-2

Reddit’s new CEO Steve Huffman announced his proposed new policy on harassment, hate speech, and bannings yesterday.  I found some of his proposals quite heartening.  Others I found disquieting.  Still others I found bizarre.

On the positive side, Huffman continues to support ousted Interim CEO Ellen Pao’s anti-harassment policies, announcing bans on subreddits like r/rapingwomen for their violation of the newly clarified site rules.  These include a ban on

  • Anything that incites harm or violence against an individual or group of people

  • Anything that harasses, bullies, or abuses an individual or group of people (these behaviors intimidate others into silence)

On the other hand, many notorious subs dedicated to racist, sexist causes (including the infamous r/coontown, which celebrated the announcement with a banner that declares the sub to have received a “Reddit Seal of Approval”), will remain present on the site.  Rather than banning such spaces outright, Reddit will be quarantining them behind

the NSFW tag, which stands for “Not Safe For Work”, which will now be applied to content that “violates a common sense of decency” in addition to pornography as Reddit did before. To view content with this classification, users will now bed required to be logged in, must opt in to seeing the content, it will not appear in search results or public listings, and it will generate no revenue for Reddit.

I am left pondering some of the possible implications of this policy.  First and foremost, I must credit my colleague and former University of Illinois classmate Dr. Michael L. Black for pointing out that this policy will result in the ad revenue from non-hateful portions of the site actually subsidizing the NSFW sections.  In other words, Reddit is willing to pay to keep these subs afloat even as they screen potential advertisers from having to be associated with questionable content.  This way, Reddit hopes to reap the monetary incentives that come about from maintaining a hate-free online community without actually doing any of the work required to bring one about.

I am also puzzling over the name for the hidden content: “NSFW.”  This tag has traditionally been appended to pornographic images, signifying a pleasurable indulgence that one shouldn’t take advantage of during work hours.  I get the idea that the hate subs are not something that one would want their boss to know they look at, but I’m taken by the notion that consuming hate is being likened to consuming porn.  Like its a naughty thrill that one can get off on reading about.  Would writing racist screeds then be akin to writing letters to Penthouse?  Are we to believe that these hate sites are about providing a release (heh) for the baser urges (heh heh) of their contributors in a relatively private setting?  Is this something that the rest of the site’s users and advertisers should be subsidizing?

I am also curious about the decision to require users to log in to access this content.  How will the data that this process generates be used?  How might it be turned to socially progressive ends?  It seems as though that would be a interesting way for these users to pay the broader community back for the privilege of using the site’s resources: we could give their data over to researchers interested in developing new systems for fighting trolls and harassers online.

What do you think about the new Content Moderation Policies?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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