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You're allowed to be openly racist on Reddit as the CEO claims it doesn't break the site's rules

Reddit is a well-known hotbed of internet activity. It’s the destination of choice for everything from cat GIFs to alt-right commentary, and has been hailed as “a bastion of free speech on the internet”. Hence it should come as no surprise that its CEO, Steve Huffman, recently clarified that “open racism” does not violate Reddit’s site rules.

A Redditor on the site declared recently: “I need clarification on something,” going on to ask Huffman, “is obvious open racism, including slurs, against reddits (sic) rules or not?” “It’s not,” came Huffman’s pared-down response. It’s a decision that might come as shocking to many.

It’s pearl-clutching for the “woke” generation, and more often than not is symptomatic of much-needed social vigilance. The clamp down by other sites on racism and sexism has been met with backlash from those on the right; naysayers decry a “liberal echo chamber” in which debate and disagreement are unhealthily stifled. This latest comment does epitomise Reddit’s appeal: it’s not so much than anything goes, but that most things do.

A vast spectrum of opinion is permissible on the site, with policing kept to a minimum. There is a systematic philosophy underlying this, explains Huffman: “On Reddit, the way in which we think about speech is to separate behavior from beliefs […] This means on Reddit there will be people with beliefs different from your own, sometimes extremely so. When users actions conflict with our content policies, we take action.”

Compartmentalised communities on the forum, known as subreddits, often invoke and implement their own rules against hate speech, omitting toxic users. But Reddit, as an umbrella, has no such unifying policy, making it the only major social media platform not to do so. Twitter users may recall when Giles Coren’s account was suspended twice in 36 hours for responding “graphically” to a troll.

Whatever your take on it, this kind of policing is far from uncommon. But for some, what feels like a breath of fresh, hate-free air, to others feels like an encroachment on freedom of speech. Hence Reddit’s lenient policy on some pretty reprehensible content.

That being said, it’s had its vigilante boots on in other domains; take, for example, its 2017 transparency report, which archived accounts involved with Russian troll farm Internet Research Agency, making them readily available for users to gawk at. Whatever your standpoint, whether your condemn it, laud it, or remain staunchly on the fence, it’s remarkable in 2018 for such a major, mainstream platform to be so bare-faced in its abject lack of content-policing. Clampdowns are not unprecedented; subreddits devoted to gory pictures of corpses have been banned, along with a deep state conspiracy community for “inciting violence”, both at the behest of vocal online protests against them.

If the internet wants to shut down hate speech, its best bet is to lobby mercilessly the household name that’s giving it a platform.

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