33 votes

Racism is rampant on Reddit, and its moderators are in open revolt - The site’s CEO says it will implement a new hate speech policy

25 comments

  1. dubteedub
    Link
    I found this pretty surprising. I had assumed that this was all planned. It makes me respect Alexis a bit more, but I do wish he had actually done something when he had a chance. However... It...

    Huffman said in an interview this week that Ohanian hadn’t told him of his planned departure in advance, and that they hadn’t talked since.

    I found this pretty surprising. I had assumed that this was all planned. It makes me respect Alexis a bit more, but I do wish he had actually done something when he had a chance.

    However...

    Huffman and his team boasted they had convinced the community’s moderators not to encourage people to post suicide videos, bringing it into technical compliance with Reddit’s policy against self-harm, according to two people who were present. Ohanian, then a board member, pushed back. He argued the company should shut down communities like this altogether, rather than trying to get them to make changes to bring them within the letter of Reddit’s content guidelines. But Ohanian couldn’t convince Huffman or the board to go along with him, and r/watchpeopledie remained on Reddit.

    It does seem that at some points Alexis had tried to steer Reddit in a better direction and was shut down by Steve and the other Board members.

    While Huffman has worked to signal to his critics that this time will be different, some of Reddit’s other leaders seemed to be already dampening expectations. At the event Monday, Seibel said he joined the board because Huffman is a personal friend, and planned to be deferential. He said he didn’t think his job “is to tell Reddit what to do and what not to do.”

    This also gives me much less hope for Michael coming to Reddit's Board. It really feels like they just asked the closest black guy that Steve knew to join that would be a yes man that they could point to.

    19 votes
  2. [11]
    drannex
    Link
    I've heard that before, far too many times over the last ten years from their leadership.

    I've heard that before, far too many times over the last ten years from their leadership.

    13 votes
    1. JXM
      Link Parent
      Yeah, my first reaction was "I'll believe it when I see it". We've been down this road a dozen times already with Reddit. It will take years of consistent, tangible work before I am willing to...

      Yeah, my first reaction was "I'll believe it when I see it". We've been down this road a dozen times already with Reddit. It will take years of consistent, tangible work before I am willing to believe anything they say.

      7 votes
    2. [9]
      moocow1452
      Link Parent
      Now that it has made the paper, maybe something is going to happen this time?

      Now that it has made the paper, maybe something is going to happen this time?

      4 votes
      1. [7]
        drannex
        Link Parent
        You should read this then, Ellen Pao who tried hard and quick to curb racism and sexism during her stint was ultimately fired from her job as CEO because of it....

        You should read this then, Ellen Pao who tried hard and quick to curb racism and sexism during her stint was ultimately fired from her job as CEO because of it. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/dec/22/reddit-ellen-pao-trolling-revenge-porn-ceo-internet-misogyny

        20 votes
        1. [6]
          gpl
          Link Parent
          The whole Ellen Pao saga I think is the fulcrum on which Reddit turned from the kind of fun site it was early on to the absolute cesspool it is now. She was treated completely unfairly.

          The whole Ellen Pao saga I think is the fulcrum on which Reddit turned from the kind of fun site it was early on to the absolute cesspool it is now. She was treated completely unfairly.

          23 votes
          1. [5]
            NaraVara
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            More importantly, I think it was one of the early test-runs for the "weaponized autism" style of internet bullying and abuse. (No offense intended to actual neurodivergent people, just can't come...

            More importantly, I think it was one of the early test-runs for the "weaponized autism" style of internet bullying and abuse. (No offense intended to actual neurodivergent people, just can't come up with a better term for it and that was the meme used to describe it at the time).

            There were bits of it before, notably with the release of Mass Effect 3 and that 4Chan "This woman is the cancer that is killing gaming" shit. But with Ellen Pao they figured out how to metastasize these grievances beyond nerd spaces, start pulling other people in and deploy it towards more "real world" issues.

            And of course, eventually this would turn into Gamergate and everything the Russian troll-farm adjacent media pushes.

            Edit: I just remembered this was also the first time I remember them coming up with a "virtuous" putative cover story ("They fired Victoria! Those bastards!") to throw up FUD any time they were called out on acting like misogynistic shits. They do this still. With Gamergate it was "actually it's about ethics in games journalism." Even now there's a lot of "Don't look at our shit, look at how [liberal person] had 4 bad tweets they made in 2011. CANCEL HIM!")

            20 votes
            1. [2]
              arghdos
              Link Parent
              So uh... as someone who was modding two large subreddits with many AMAs at the time, let me be clear... firing Victoria with no advance warning (or even messaging after the fact) to the people who...

              Edit: I just remembered this was also the first time I remember them coming up with a "virtuous" putative cover story ("They fired Victoria! Those bastards!") to throw up FUD any time they were called out on acting like misogynistic shits

              So uh... as someone who was modding two large subreddits with many AMAs at the time, let me be clear... firing Victoria with no advance warning (or even messaging after the fact) to the people who relied on her to help to those AMA's happen and go smoothly was a shit move. The resulting mod anger over the years of the admins ignoring the needs of their moderators, relying on their free labor (and of bot makers like the founder of ~'s), was very justified, and when all those subs blacked out that day, that's all I was hearing about from my fellow mods. I don't think I even knew who Ellen Pao was until I heard her on NPR a day or two later.

              What a bunch of shit-heads did with the "they fired Victoria" thing afterwards, or even really what Ellen had to do with any of that other than literally just being the person in charge at the time.... no idea, and it wasn't the important bit in all that really (at least, among the mods I knew).

              At the very least, it forced Reddit to acknowledge that are literally only capable of existing because of the free, donated labor of their thousands of moderators.... which is not a bad thing, as far as I see it. It also was about the first time I said, "maybe I'm done with this whole Reddit thing".

              14 votes
              1. NaraVara
                (edited )
                Link Parent
                That's not the point though. The point is that while they say this is why they're mad, it's not really why they're mad.The entire reason they drag those issues into it at all is to bog you down...

                So uh... as someone who was modding two large subreddits with many AMAs at the time, let me be clear... firing Victoria with no advance warning (or even messaging after the fact) to the people who relied on her to help to those AMA's happen and go smoothly was a shit move. The resulting mod anger over the years of the admins ignoring the needs of their moderators, relying on their free labor (and of bot makers like the founder of ~'s), was very justified, and when all those subs blacked out that day, that's all I was hearing about from my fellow mods. I don't think I even knew who Ellen Pao was until I heard her on NPR a day or two later.

                That's not the point though. The point is that while they say this is why they're mad, it's not really why they're mad.The entire reason they drag those issues into it at all is to bog you down any time you want to condemn their bad behavior by forcing you to go down a tedious tangent about how of course the Victoria thing was fucked up. They're setting it up to where you have to acknowledge that they're right about something before you're allowed to talk, and by the time you've finished acknowledging they're right you're 4 comments down and nobody is reading your criticism of why flooding a site with lurid rape and violence fantasies of someone for banning revenge porn subreddits is bad. All a bystander sees is you conceding that they have a point.

                The alt-right playbook isn't about rational discourse, which people miss when they talk about how their ideas need to be defeated in "debate." What they're trying to do is control space by drowning out the conversation. This happens along multiple prongs.

                First is a bunch of stupid copy-pasta and memes that are easy to distribute so that their trolls can spam them endlessly into every discussion. Second is to simply exhaust anyone who disagrees with them on the issue. This happens by "sea-lioning" their way into each and every conversation with insincere requests for "evidence" or insistence that you "prove" every assumption you're making starting with the idea that the world is round. Then they go downvoting everything you say and flood you with DMs or replies where they repetitiously throw more copy-pasta, trite arguments you've debunked multiple times already, or abuse at you to say you're wrong.

                But it also happens by chumming the waters with a generally defensible position that encourages naive sideliners to keep jumping in and saying things like "But wasn't the Victoria thing fucked up though?" "But isn't it suspect how much sway big studios have over games review though?" "But isn't looting bad though?" Nobody is arguing that, but by including it and bringing it up constantly--which they don't really care about mind you--they manage to dupe opinionated people into chiming into conversations on their behalf. The end result is they just end up contributing to tiring out the people who would otherwise be reporting and talking-down the alt-righters. It's a strategy to create a chilling effect around criticism of bad behavior.

                10 votes
            2. [2]
              TheJorro
              (edited )
              Link Parent
              I'm going to go a bit in the weeds here over a minor, minor point but I think there's something in going down the rabbit hole a bit. Apologies. I'm not sure how closely the ME3 ending furor was...

              I'm going to go a bit in the weeds here over a minor, minor point but I think there's something in going down the rabbit hole a bit. Apologies.

              notably with the release of Mass Effect 3 and that 4Chan "This woman is the cancer that is killing gaming" shit.

              I'm not sure how closely the ME3 ending furor was related to the rampant misogyny that accelerated in that time period, but it probably did make certain groups thinking anything they could get angry about was something they could go overboard with. The few months between the ME3 ending furor and the Hepler situation was probably the moment it went from "gamers complaining en masse about something" to "misogynistic gamer harassment".

              The Hepler situation was probably the first, and most immediate result since it was born from people trying to keep the ME3 controversy growing, as a response to some heated articles coming out from the gaming press at the time too. I feel like this is was not only the start of misogynistic harassment running rampant in gaming, but also the start of the whole "can't trust journalists" sentiment.

              I recall the thing with Hepler was more Dragon Age fans than Mass Effect fans since they dug up an interview to try to retroactively blame the state of Dragon Age 2 on her (even though none of DA2's problems had to do with the writing). It didn't have the same range or scope as the ME3 ending controversy did, at the least.

              But what I find interesting is that, looking back, the way they went about it, the way they dug it up, and even the way the information was shared was very much a proto-GamerGate methodology. When that Five Guys thing popped up, a lot of the response that became GamerGate basically reused the template created with the Hepler situation. Also, weirdly, the Hepler thing was the first instance of referring to a woman as a kind of food? I still don't understand what that's about.

              EDIT: I've changed my wording and ideas on this comment a few times. I feel like I'm trying to say something specific and I've been pruning things here and there to be more to the point. Previous versions of this comment had more about Mass Effect 3 and its ending but that's not really on the topic of where and how this misogynistic harassment started and grew.

              4 votes
              1. FishFingus
                Link Parent
                I definitely remember some particularly nasty and targeted misogyny at least as far back as DA2. Regarding the food reference thing, I think the nickname they came up with was either "Hamburger...

                I definitely remember some particularly nasty and targeted misogyny at least as far back as DA2. Regarding the food reference thing, I think the nickname they came up with was either "Hamburger Hepler" or "Hamburger Helper". AFAIK it was just shaming her for her appearance on top of the accusation of helping to dumb down and/or destroy gaming.

      2. mftrhu
        Link Parent
        I'll believe it when I'll see it.

        I'll believe it when I'll see it.

        4 votes
  3. [10]
    dubteedub
    (edited )
    Link
    Starting late last week and over the next week or so the admins have organized several video calls with "black-identified" subreddits such as /r/BlackPeopleTwitter, r/BlackLadies, r/BlackFellas,...

    Starting late last week and over the next week or so the admins have organized several video calls with "black-identified" subreddits such as /r/BlackPeopleTwitter, r/BlackLadies, r/BlackFellas, and others, as well as /r/AgainstHateSubreddits to discuss potential policy changes and create an open dialogue with these communities. I understand their intent is to create a new "Community Council" with this group and they told us they plan on extending them to other communities as well.

    I participated in a call earlier this week and the admins heard out the broader concerns and issues faced by these moderators and black-identified subreddits.

    The admins also detailed some of their plans which include changes to their content policy, as well as measures to address the hate and harassment on this site.

    I think the conversations so far have been promising and it's good that the admins are opening more lines of communication, particularly with the communities that have been most affected by the developments of the last few weeks.

    __

    One thing that I will also point out that was not shared in the article but by the journo just shared on Twitter.

    One interesting tidbit I couldn't fit in my Reddit story. Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said that moderators wouldn't get banned/stripped of their communities for protesting.

    Reddit CEO Steve Huffman / Spez said: "They have complete freedom to do so. The only time a moderator gets in trouble is if they're doing it to spite their community, is if a moderator turns off their community to ruin it."

    https://twitter.com/EricNewcomer/status/1273624314743607296

    I think it is pretty interesting that Steve is on the record now saying they won't ban moderators who protest or black out their subreddits.

    13 votes
    1. [3]
      Autoxidation
      Link Parent
      I am distinctly reminded of the /r/KotakuInAction head mod that tried to close the sub since it was such a cesspool, but Reddit removed him and restored the sub. What a fucking joke.
      16 votes
      1. [2]
        shiruken
        Link Parent
        That follows with a followup tweet:

        That follows with a followup tweet:

        Reddit CEO Steve Huffman / Spez said: "They have complete freedom to do so. The only time a moderator gets in trouble is if they're doing it to spite their community, is if a moderator turns off their community to ruin it."

        6 votes
        1. Autoxidation
          Link Parent
          Sure, but if Reddit policed racism and bigotry, then /r/kotakuinaction would've been banned a long time ago.

          Sure, but if Reddit policed racism and bigotry, then /r/kotakuinaction would've been banned a long time ago.

          5 votes
    2. [5]
      nacho
      Link Parent
      I have to say, it's pretty disheartening that the admins keep making calls and off-site solutions with few people rather than using, their own social media platform and the host of admin-mod...

      I have to say, it's pretty disheartening that the admins keep making calls and off-site solutions with few people rather than using, their own social media platform and the host of admin-mod communities they've created over the years.

      To me that signals that they've given up on using, well, reddit and all the thousands of moderators to get feedback. It's just like they keep sending out mod surveys rather than having conversations with mods.

      They keep making threads and posts and then they don't respond to comments or concerns.

      They don't even share their platform news in subreddits about reddit as a platform that they as a company run and moderate

      For being in the communication industry, it sure looks like reddit doesn't understand communication. That's pretty disheartening.


      Reddit’s general counsel, Ben Lee, explained Huffman’s plans for a hate speech policy by saying the company planned to clarify its values. “Our existing policies are quite similar to hate policies on other platforms, however, they will be updated to prohibit the promotion of hate based on identity and other characteristics, vulnerabilities, etc.," he said in a statement. "We will also step up enforcement to address the policy change." The company believes there are fewer hateful communities left on its platform and will target individual bad faith users.

      If this emphasized part is true, I really, really wouldn't get my hopes up.

      Suggesting that reddit has as strong anti-hate policies as other social media platforms is blatantly false.

      I also don't think they understand the sheer amount of time/effort or the volume of consequences those sorts of policies demand at Youtube, Facebook, Google, Snapchat, Twtich, Tumbr, Pinterest and on and on.


      Why won't the admins ever engage in a policy discussion on open subreddits about reddit's rules/policies and how they could be changed?

      Unless such detailed discussions happen, I think it'll be the same thing it's been for the last at least 6 years: All talk, then vague and poorly defined changes that the admins never go to bat a defense for.

      Until I see enforcement of strong and clear new rules, this just seems like reddit's PR run this time around to try to save growth while avoiding meaningful change.

      9 votes
      1. Death
        Link Parent
        I can kind of understand that they wouldn't want to use tools they left to languish and are no longer appropriate for the situation but that in and of itself kind of proves how they have a habit...

        I can kind of understand that they wouldn't want to use tools they left to languish and are no longer appropriate for the situation but that in and of itself kind of proves how they have a habit of setting up tools to improve communications with mods and then just let them languish until they're no longer useful.

        7 votes
      2. [3]
        dubteedub
        Link Parent
        So my understanding is that they have had a few "mod councils" for I guess close to a year now. Those current councils are "Gaming," "Sports," "Beauty," and "Women" focused subreddits. It is not...

        I have to say, it's pretty disheartening that the admins keep making calls and off-site solutions with few people rather than using, their own social media platform and the host of admin-mod communities they've created over the years.

        So my understanding is that they have had a few "mod councils" for I guess close to a year now. Those current councils are "Gaming," "Sports," "Beauty," and "Women" focused subreddits. It is not clear to me how many participants are on each group, but this seems to have been the trial run. They are now expanding that to include a "Black" group and talked about forming a number of others. I know admins often make lots of promises and then fail to deliver, but this seems like a good step to me.

        I would also just saw that all of their open channels like r/modsupport or r/modnews are regularly brigaded to shit by free speech trolls whenever a policy discussion is had and moderators are much less likely to be so upfront with their views when they are going to get screenshot and spammed everywhere to use for harassment. So it makes a lot more sense to me to take these conversations to video calls where folks can be much more candid.

        They keep making threads and posts and then they don't respond to comments or concerns.

        On the call I joined on Tuesday night, one of the admins said they plan on making weekly updates on all the new policies and decisions they are rolling out, like the apparent filter they (finally) put in that prevents users from sending people unsolicited chats or pms with slurs. Again,I have not actually seen any such post this week, but I saw that the head of community woodpaneled did discuss this a bit on modsupport yesterday.

        Hi Meepster,

        Thanks for checking in. As outlined in ggAlex's post, we've been spending the last week in calls with communities most affected by the recent events, with a specific focus on Black communities, to ensure we're hearing their experiences, concerns, needs, and desires for change. This week we'll be hosting the All-Council call with dozens of moderators to discuss how to evolve our policies. As outlined in ggAlex's post, we'll release the meeting minutes publicly, within a week or two. That will give everyone insight into how we're looking at evolving policies and the actual changes should follow shortly.

        Hope that catches you up on where we're at in the process.

        https://www.reddit.com/r/ModSupport/comments/has1fj/ggalex_and_spez_wheres_the_dialogue_are_we_back/fv4kl3d/

        Suggesting that reddit has as strong anti-hate policies as other social media platforms is blatantly false.

        100% agree and in my feedback to them on their policy I pointed to Twitter's which is incredibly comprehensive and much more direct.

        "Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories."

        https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/hateful-conduct-policy

        7 votes
        1. [2]
          nacho
          Link Parent
          I won't bore you with all the older history of admin/mod IRC rooms, individual admins participating in subreddit mod backrooms in official capacities, private admin/mod hangout subs used to...

          I won't bore you with all the older history of admin/mod IRC rooms, individual admins participating in subreddit mod backrooms in official capacities, private admin/mod hangout subs used to solicit mod opinions, admins reaching out by reddit pm for protracted feedback from individual mods and so on in "prehistoric" reddit times.

          I was a part of the Open letter conversations referenced recently that related to "how reddit should deal with hate speech" six years ago. That was the third time I was involved in significant admin-run conversations brainstorming how to deal with hate speech on a platform level.

          I was involved in reddit's (to my knowledge) first mod council. It was related to gaming and how to get figures in gaming communities to learn and use reddit instead of breaking self-promotion rules (and how to tweak those) back in 2016-7.

          I was party to the first wave of admin-initiated video calls with mod teams, admin-initiated sub-specific slack rooms, closed-betas for various mod features, the discussions bastardized into the mod guidelines and on and on.

          I've rambled more than enough in this comment as it is to list more or go into details. You more than get the idea I'm sure.


          This is the exact same path that's been run down with mods for at least 9 years. I'd love to be proven wrong by action this time, which is why I've bothered participating time and time again.

          But I'm beyond believing anything will change until I see enforcement of strong and clear new rules,

          This start yet again seems like a project that's been pitched to the bosses that will be evaluated in x months where the essence of a job well done will be entirely words internally before the project is just abandoned.

          It's proven to be a very successful strategy for ensuring mods don't organize (past that first Victoria-fired-blackout) because enough always give the admins the benefit of the doubt for the latest dead-end process. That ensures media coverage isn't too big and reddit isn't forced to change.

          I'm jaded. IF this is different, I'd be the first to be extremely happy to be proven very wrong.

          8 votes
          1. dubteedub
            Link Parent
            Given that Steve Huffman has himself been on these calls and listened to us, as well as various VPs, I think it's helpful that this does seem to be driven from the top down whereas past efforts...

            This start yet again seems like a project that's been pitched to the bosses that will be evaluated in x months where the essence of a job well done will be entirely words internally before the project is just abandoned.

            Given that Steve Huffman has himself been on these calls and listened to us, as well as various VPs, I think it's helpful that this does seem to be driven from the top down whereas past efforts have not seemed to have leadership support.

            It's proven to be a very successful strategy for ensuring mods don't organize (past that first Victoria-fired-blackout) because enough always give the admins the benefit of the doubt for the latest dead-end process. That ensures media coverage isn't too big and reddit isn't forced to change.

            I mean, we are still certainly organizing right now. Right now all 800 subreddits that signed onto the open letter are being modmailed and are putting forward a rep to join a private sub to discuss next steps.

            I am cautiously optimistic by these developments, but have been burned by the admins too many times to leave it all to them.

            5 votes
    3. Cycloneblaze
      Link Parent
      This comment combined with combined with, well, the entire quarantining deal and system, really - it all gives my an impression that reddit are happy to ban people, sometimes (who can come back),...

      Reddit CEO Steve Huffman / Spez said: "They have complete freedom to do so. The only time a moderator gets in trouble is if they're doing it to spite their community, is if a moderator turns off their community to ruin it."

      This comment combined with

      The company believes there are fewer hateful communities left on its platform and will target individual bad faith users.

      combined with, well, the entire quarantining deal and system, really - it all gives my an impression that reddit are happy to ban people, sometimes (who can come back), but really don't like disrupting subreddits. Even though the slightest bit of thought about the situation will inform you that the subreddits, the communities focused on generating the hateful content and giving bad faith users a place to congregate, are just as much if not more of a problem.

      So if they actually want to take concrete steps to change the site, why the strange defensiveness about the subreddits on it?

      6 votes
  4. [3]
    SantalBlush
    Link
    Sometimes I notice a series of strange posts reaching the front page of reddit that have two components: -Story of a black person committing a crime -Comments in the thread complaining about these...

    Sometimes I notice a series of strange posts reaching the front page of reddit that have two components:

    -Story of a black person committing a crime
    -Comments in the thread complaining about these posts never getting traction, being "against the narrative," etc.

    These posts seem to occur within a short span of one another, and I'm assuming they're the result of a concerted effort to push some racist agenda. This video today of a black man assaulting a white man is a good example. This is on the heels of many posts about Rayshard Brooks's shooting being "justified" and so on. Just wondering if this is a recognized phenomenon or not, because it's annoying.

    8 votes
    1. [2]
      dubteedub
      Link Parent
      It is certainly a recognized phenomenon and has been an explicit tactic of white supremacists for years. It is the same reason that Breitbart for many years had a "Black Crime" tab. Their entire...

      It is certainly a recognized phenomenon and has been an explicit tactic of white supremacists for years. It is the same reason that Breitbart for many years had a "Black Crime" tab. Their entire goal is to depict black people and minorities as dangerous, violent criminals.

      7 votes
      1. SantalBlush
        Link Parent
        Thanks for the insight. It seems like this sort of thing will be harder to take action against, since it's more low key than outright racist threads.

        Thanks for the insight. It seems like this sort of thing will be harder to take action against, since it's more low key than outright racist threads.

        2 votes