Without a hint of irony, one or more of the moderators for r/technology, one of Reddit's largest communities, banned a user for submitting a report on the site's moderation problems last night. The submitter of the article, user CivAndTrees, told us they were banned from r/technology without warning or explanation. The action follows several efforts by Reddit's most prominent and secretive moderators to control the spread of information about leaked user Violentacrez, who was responsible for the creation of controversial subreddits containing hateful speech and sexual content involving minors.
"Reddit is getting bigger and bigger, and it seems some people are trying to control what is seen and not seen on this website."
"I received nothing but a banned notice. No message. No reasoning," CivAndTrees wrote in a private message to The Verge. "The message was not even sent from a moderator, it was sent from r/technology." CivAndTrees said that the site is being "infested" by overreaching moderators. "It's really sad. But being banned from r/technology like that for a simple post really disturbs me. Reddit is getting bigger and bigger, and it seems some people are trying to control what is seen and not seen on this website," CivAndTrees wrote. In addition to banning the user, moderators unlisted the submission — effectively censoring the article and the conversation about it from readers both in r/technology and the front page audience of Reddit.com.
We contacted multiple Reddit moderators to comment on the situation, but have not received a definitive response. One moderator told us that "the post was considered not relevant to technology," and that "one issue I saw was that it included a link to a private pastebin conversation." The moderator had no immediate answer on why user CivAndTrees was banned. After we sent questions by email, one moderator restored the user, telling us that "each moderator has a different policy. I personally think the story is OK so I've unbanned the user and post."
"It's not a perfect system."
While Reddit's owners may argue that their policies are conducive to growth and freedom — after all, any of the 1.9 million r/technology readers are technically free to break off and start their own subreddit — it's evident that a small group of volunteer moderators are systematically suppressing users and stories, drawing further attention to their ability to censor open discussion on the site. When asked about the recent uptick in censorship, Reddit GM Erik Martin told us that "moderators are free to ban whoever they want for whatever reason. We don't treat big subreddits differently from small ones." Martin admitted that "it's not a perfect system, it's not a fluid market, but we have seen instances where moderators of a certain subreddit take a subtle policy and people start new subreddits or move to other ones."
The only question now is how far Reddit's owners will let moderators go in subverting its own values, including expression and openness, two of five principles of the Declaration of Internet Freedom that the company literally carried on its shoulder along the trail of the Internet 2012 bus tour. It's hard to see how letting moderators covertly squelch discussion at their whim fits the company's democratic view of the internet.