Shut Up Shitheads: Will Reddit's New Anti-Harassment Policy Work?

The website continues to balance its commitment to free speech with efforts to ensure safety of its users.

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May 15 2015, 2:00pm

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Reddit announced Thursday it will start to enforce updated anti-harassment rules to cut back on abuse on the platform. The move is the latest in a tricky process for the site, which refers to itself as the front page of the internet, of trying to rein in abuse while staying true to its foundations of free speech.

The change comes after Reddit conducted a survey of more than 15,000 users, in which many said abuse on the site was the biggest reason they would not recommend the it to others, even though the use it themselves.

"We are updating how we apply existing policies to address new types of harassment on reddit," the company said in a statement. "The community wants these improvements; they told us in redditor survey data from March 2015. We believe less harassment means more participation, leading to more free expression, better conversations and better communities."

The updated policies were laid out in a blog post called "Promote ideas, protect people." The site defines harassment as "Systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person (1) conclude that reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation, or (2) fear for their safety or the safety of those around them."

Users who experience this kind of harassment can report it by email to Reddit employees and moderators.

Although surveyed users seemed to support efforts to decrease harassment, the new policy hasn't come without pushback from users who come to the site for its lawless environment. For much of the Reddit's history, its only rules focused on the prevention of spamming, vote manipulation, and other activities that interfere with the running of the site. Reddit has touted this as part of a main goal to allow "freedom of expression." However, the flexible policies have also given rise to toxic communities including many with rampant racism. The site has also been called out for its misogyny, even towards its own interim CEO.

Because of this, heads of Reddit claim to be working to implement one of the site's basic rules: "keep everyone safe." In February it announced a ban on "involuntary pornography," allowing users to report any nude photograph, video, or digital image posted against the subject's will to administrators for removal. However, activists were initially skeptical of the policy, saying it still puts the onus on victims. Reddit said it would not be hiring any additional staff members to assist in tackling the problem of revenge porn.

It is not yet clear yet how much the new measure will change some of the most toxic aspects of Reddit. Some have already said the policy doesn't go far enough, as users banned from Reddit can quickly make new accounts and continue to post harmful content.