Reddit Just Took a Huge Step Toward Ending Harassment — And Users Are Pissed

Reddit Just Took a Huge Step Toward Ending Harassment — And Users Are Pissed
Source: AP
Source: AP

The bridge has burned down, and now the trolls are homeless.

On Wednesday, Reddit administrators announced the company had banned five "harassing subreddits" as part of a new initiative to combat abuse on the hugely popular social news site. The most popular banned subreddit by far: r/fatpeoplehate, a group devoted to, well, hating fat people.

Source: Reddit

The announcement read:

Today we are announcing a change in community management on Reddit. Our goal is to enable as many people as possible to have authentic conversations and share ideas and content on an open platform. ... It is not easy to balance these values, especially as the Internet evolves. We are learning and hopefully improving as we move forward. We want to be open about our involvement: We will ban subreddits that allow their communities to use the subreddit as a platform to harass individuals when moderators don't take action. We're banning behavior, not ideas.

It's the second big step in a major initiative to make Reddit, which in May boasted 172.7 million unique visitors who viewed a total of 7.6 billion pages, a friendlier place. 

Last month, the site debuted a long-awaited anti-harassment policy in a blog post titled "Promote ideas, protect people," in which the admins promised to crack down on abusive users. After surveying 15,000 members of the Reddit community, they wrote, "we are seeing our open policies stifling free expression; people avoid participating for fear of their personal and family safety."

No shit, responded Gawker, which pointed out, justly, that Reddit hosts several communities disgusting enough to make regular users run for the hills. These groups, while relatively small, are devoted to things like sexist and racist abuse, degrading violence and sexualizing dead children. "It seems clear that a hate subreddit like 'Coontown,' Reddit's 10,000-subscriber racist community, would lead many human beings to think that Reddit "'is not a safe platform to express their ideas,'" wrote Ashley Feinberg.

Here's Reddit's response: Shut down the hate groups, five at a time. 

Besides r/fatpeoplehate, Reddit banned four other groups that organized anti-transgender, anti-fat and anti-black sentiment. So did the most vocal members of the Reddit community rally behind their leaders, skipping into the sunset as Reddit's dark era of creepshots and jailbait fades into memory?

Haha, nope. They flooded the site with clones of r/fatpeoplehate, protesting "censorship" and calling for more harassment of fat people.

Source: Reddit
Source: Reddit

Amusingly, trolls have already created dozens of r/fatpeoplehate clones, including r/fatpersonhate and r/fatpeoplehate2, 3, 4, 5 and on and on. Less amusing are the racist memes depicting overweight women that serve as jokes like "Reddit's newest admin," "This is what happened to FPH" and "Fuck the fat mods."

By Thursday morning, users were calling for Reddit CEO Ellen Pao to resign. The subreddits r/PaoMustResign, r/FuckEllenPao, r/EllenPaoandfathate and some with even more sexist and vulgar names are attempting to "Google-bomb" Pao so searching her name results in images of swastikas.

Organizing Reddit's front page by r/all, revealing popular posts by non-default communities, shows that Reddit was dominated by anti-Pao content Thursday morning.

Source: Reddit

Many users, fed up with Reddit's new anti-harassment policies, are fleeing the site for the less regulated Reddit clone Voat.co, which according to Voat's subreddit already has a jailbait problem. 

Jailbait, by the way, refers to sexualized images of girls under 18. R/jailbait was one of Reddit's most popular communities until it was closed in 2011, and Reddit has since banned sexualized content featuring minors. Reddit's former general manager, Erik Martin, wrote in an Ask Me Anything session, "Morally questionable reddits like jailbait are part of the price of free speech on a site like this."

Three years later, it seems Reddit is having a tough time shaking Martin's philosophy — that free speech is part of the fabric of Reddit, no matter the cost.

This story was updated at 8:30 a.m. on June 11.