Reddit has revised its policies to make cracking down on abuse easier. An administrator posted the new rules earlier today, saying that the “narrowness” of the earlier policy had reduced its effectiveness. These new changes broaden the definition of threats, harassment, and bullying, and they allow bystanders (not just victims) to report violations of the rules. Like previous changes, this gives Reddit greater leeway to police its platform, but it also creates confusion for users of the large and sometimes chaotic forum.
As administrator Landoflobsters lays out, Reddit previously defined harassment as “systematic and/or continued” behavior that made people fear for their “real life” safety. Now, Reddit proscribes “anything that works to shut someone out of the conversation through intimidation or abuse, online or off.” That includes “menacing someone, directing abuse at a person or group, following them around the site, encouraging others to do any of these actions, or otherwise behaving in a way that would discourage a reasonable person from participating on Reddit.”
This policy applies to entire subreddits, not only individual users, and it appears to have resulted in several subreddits getting banned. That list includes r/Braincels, a major forum for the virulently misogynist incel movement, which is currently in the news after the US Army speculated that members might target screenings of the film Joker. “We have made several updates to our site wide policies against harassment. This includes explicitly prohibiting content or behavior that threatens, harasses, or bullies groups of people. Users and subreddits that engage in such behavior will be banned,” a spokesperson tells The Verge.
Reddit will also start using “some improved machine-learning tools” to sort abuse reports, but it won’t be automatically scanning content or banning people; it’s theoretically just for making sure the most urgent reports get prioritized. Overall, “we’re hoping today’s changes will help us better leverage human user reports,” writes Landoflobsters. Taking reports from bystanders is part of that process as well since it’s supposed to better distribute the process of reporting harassment.
Many Reddit users responded with some perennial questions about moderation. One user asked if the rules would apply to a subreddit that monitors hate groups since it’s arguably trying to drive bigots off Reddit. Another noted that false anti-harassment reports can be used by trolls to drive somebody offline. A few people asked whether Reddit would ban r/The_Donald, a pro-Trump subreddit that was quarantined earlier this year for encouraging violent threats.
Today’s changes, according to the Reddit post, are meant to stop users from sticking to the letter of anti-harassment rules but breaking the spirit of them. As Reddit admits, that’s inevitably going to create ambiguity, so their effectiveness will depend on how well administrators address each difficult case.