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Reddit reports 18 percent reduction in hateful content after banning nearly 7,000 subreddits

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Reddit’s new stance on hate speech shows early progress

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

In June this year, Reddit began a huge campaign to remove hateful content from its site, blocking communities that engaged in hate speech and harassment. In an update on its progress today, the company says it’s banned nearly 7,000 subreddits (including repeat offenders) resulting in an 18 percent drop in users posting hateful content.

“While I would love that number to be 100 percent, I’m encouraged by the progress,” writes Reddit user u/worstnerd, a member of the company’s Safety team.

The progress is part of a sea change at Reddit after the site introduced new policies that explicitly ban hate speech and promised to enforce them rigorously. Reddit has long been criticized for tolerating racist and misogynistic content, with the site’s executives defending its position as upholding free speech. In the past, that has meant tolerating communities that shared stolen nude photos, or videos of domestic violence, or promoted ideologies like white nationalism.

As part of its new stance, Reddit says it will be studying the spread of hate speech on the site more closely. Prior to the “ban wave” that began in June, the company says approximately 40,000 potentially hateful pieces of content were shared each day, making up around 0.2 percent of all content. These posts, comments, and messages accumulated some 6.47 million views or around 0.16 percent of total daily views. (The view percentage is smaller because moderation bots remove some content before anyone sees it.) The company did not say how these figures had changed as a result of the ban wave.

Since the “ban wave” in June, toxic comments posted on Reddit have fallen.
Image: Reddit

The company also says that half (48 percent) of all hateful content on the site was targeting a person’s ethnicity or nationality. That was followed by their class or political affiliation (16 percent), their sexuality (12 percent), their gender (10 percent), or their religion (6 percent), while 1 percent of hate content targeted ability and 7 percent had an unclear target.

Reddit says these figures are preliminary and that it will be offering more detailed data in the future. But it stressed that collecting such information is extremely challenging at scale.

“Sometimes hate can be very overt, other times it can be more subtle. In other circumstances, historically marginalized groups may reclaim language and use it in a way that is acceptable for them, but unacceptable for others to use,” writes u/worstnerd. “Additionally, people are weirdly creative about how to be mean to each other. They evolve their language to make it challenging for outsiders (and models) to understand.”