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Reddit bans several of its most racist communities

Reddit's leaders are finally getting control of their site. New CEO Steve Huffman announced today that Reddit has adopted an expanded content policy, proposed in July, and has banned a number of communities — including r/coontown, Reddit's notoriously hateful white supremacist community. The ban is particularly notable since Reddit has consistently avoided banning various hate communities on the grounds that, while distasteful, they did not violate the site's official rules.

Reddit has been slow to address some of its most toxic communities, and last month the company's proposal for new rules appeared to protect much of the site's hate speech. Originally, the plan was to "quarantine" communities like r/coontown, removing them from search and preventing them from generating revenue for the company. Instead, Reddit banned that subreddit along with five other similar communities.

"We are banning a handful of communities that exist solely to annoy."

"Today, in addition to applying quarantines, we are banning a handful of communities that exist solely to annoy other Redditors, prevent us from improving Reddit, and generally make Reddit worse for everyone else," Huffman wrote. "Our most important policy over the last 10 years has been to allow just about anything so long as it does not prevent others from enjoying Reddit for what it is: the best place online to have truly authentic conversations."

Reddit still plans to quarantine other parts of its site, but it's not clear yet which subreddits will be affected; Huffman only noted that moderators of those subreddits would receive a message. There are, however, some more details about how the system will work. Reddit says communities will be quarantined when administrators "deem its content to be extremely offensive or upsetting to the average Redditor." Reddit users will need to have an account with a verified email address to gain access, and will need to explicitly opt in to view them. Additionally, the site will prohibit quarantined communities from displaying custom banners.

Today's bans may not go over well with the site's highly vocal user base, who protested earlier this year when several subreddits were banned for violating the site's new anti-harassment policy. At the time, interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao became the subject of vicious attacks for the bans, which intensified when the company later fired a key staff member. In response to the firing, Reddit's most powerful moderators briefly held the site hostage — but protests haven't seemed to cause any lasting damage to the site.

While the bans are a step in the right direction, it's likely that Reddit's administrators haven't made anything easier, or clearer to users. Some of the site's key rules are open to interpretation, including things like "inciting harm." The new content policy doesn't seem to clear any of that ambiguity up, asking users to "keep in mind the spirit in which [the rules] were written."

It's also not clear yet if today's bans will be an exception to the rule. Last month, Huffman said that "banning is like capital punishment," and he seems to still feel the same way. "We take banning very seriously, which is why it takes so long for us to do it," Huffman wrote today. "In this case, a small group of people were causing [an] outsized amount of harm to Reddit."