Reddit’s ‘force of good’: CEO announces stricter content rules

Reddit's new CEO Steve Huffman has announced rules that will ban spam, flag 'adult content,' and illegal activity.

Robert Galbraith/Reuters
Reddit mascots at the company's headquarters in San Francisco last year. After a whirlwind of widespread contention, Reddit, a website with a retro-'90s look and space-alien mascot that tracks everything from online news to celebrity Q&As, is cleaning up its content, announced new CEO Steve Huffman Thursday.

Online forum giant Reddit has jumped from one fiasco to another this summer, from fuming user revolts to an executive shuffle at the highest level.

Last week, it all came to a head, when the company announced that interim chief executive Ellen Pao had resigned, leaving co-founder Steve Huffman in her place and users to wonder what the future of Reddit would look like.

Mr. Huffman set about to answer that question Thursday, as he proposed a new content policy that will flag "adult content" and ban spam, copyright infringement, illegal content, people's private information, or posts sexualizing minors.

In an “Ask Me Anything” session on the Reddit website, Huffman clarified the types of content that would no longer be permitted.

“It’s ok to say ‘I don’t like this group of people.’ It’s not ok to say, ‘I’m going to kill this group of people,’” he wrote. “/r/rapingwomen will be banned. They are encouraging people to rape.”

He went on to say that adult content would be labeled with an NSFW (“Not Safe For Work”) tag and guarded by a login-only portal.

“/r/coontown,” a Reddit group that is dedicated to anti-black racism, would be reclassified, said Huffman. While “the content there is offensive to many,” it did not meet the restrictions for a ban, he explained.

“I’ve gotten the increasingly strong feeling that Reddit needs me more than ever,” Huffman said in an interview with The New York Times. “We have an opportunity to be this massive force of good in the world.”

While the company has said Huffman’s policy has yet to be finalized and encouraged users to make suggestions, the chief executive’s proposal strikes many as a remarkably decisive move in the midst of what's been called Reddit’s “crisis moment.”

Reddit found itself embroiled in angry backlash last month as the site decided to ban several groups for harassment, reported The Christian Science Monitor. Some of the offending topics included ridiculing overweight and gay people.

Chief executive Pao then fell under harsh scrutiny after the firing of a popular site moderator prompted hundreds of thousands to petition for her removal.

Posting without restriction has long been pronounced as the foremost priority for Reddit’s virtual community, now one of the world’s largest with 170 million regular monthly users, according to the Times.

“Reddit’s hivemind seems to operate under two principles,” wrote Forbes contributor Paul Tassi. “1) ‘We want to post anything we want.’ 2) ‘We want Reddit to effectively operate as a non-profit to support our continued posting of anything we want.’”

Recently, however, the online giant has embarked on a tactical shift, from championing free speech absolutists to a more mainstream conversion. 

"Freedom of expression is important to us, but it’s more important to us that we at Reddit be true to our mission," said Huffman.

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