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Reddit bestows the power to block offensive users

In what may be a sign of things to come, Reddit is beginning to add the lightest of restrictions to its site, the latest being the ability to block from view the posts of those who would offend you.

Hrant Khachatryan/PAN Photo/AP/File
Armenian-American internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of social website Reddit, posing for a selfie with students from a school newly renovated by the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) located in Hatsik, Armenia, on Sunday, April 26, 2015.

Reddit, the internet forum that allows the discussion of almost anything, has introduced a new blocking feature to allow users more control over what they see.

The site, which was founded on principles of free speech and has done its utmost to guard them, had already introduced a feature allowing direct messages to be blocked, but the new tweak takes that one step further.

The revamped, more comprehensive ability, allows people to hide from their view all activity of anyone they choose, but critics wonder why it has taken so long to introduce such a simple step – while others decry even these modest restrictions.

“Reddit is a place where virtually anyone can voice, ask about or change their views on a wide range of topics, share personal, intimate feelings, or post cat pictures,” wrote Reddit founding engineer Christopher Slowe in a post under his pseudonym “KeyserSosa.”

“This leads to great communities and deep meaningful discussions. But, sometimes this very openness can lead to less awesome stuff like spam, trolling, and worse, harassment.”

Reddit, founded in 2005, laid down its first set of rules last summer, when it decided that some content really was unacceptable – incitement of violence or harassment, for example, or sexually suggestive content that featured minors, as Fortune reported.

After pressure from the governments of Germany and Russia, the site also censored certain groups in those countries, one that enjoyed watching murders and another that promoted the growing of psychoactive mushrooms.

In the latest move, if someone blocks another user’s content, that blocked user will be unaware anything has changed, and all their posts will still be visible to everyone else, similar to Twitter’s mute function.

One reason why the site is choosing to change now, easing away from its initial policy of allowing almost anything to go, is a survey it carried out of 15,000 users, in which they found the “number one reason redditors do not recommend the site – even though they use it themselves – is because they want to avoid exposing friends to hate and offensive content.”

And while Reddit already has 243 million unique visitors every month, it seeks to reach a far larger audience, to rival the likes of Facebook and Twitter, but to achieve that goal, a little less negative content may be permissible.

The site has long been home to subcultures, in underground areas called subreddits, which promote discussion of whatever they choose, sometimes including racist and misogynistic material. It is to the despair of some that it has taken Reddit this long to change, as The New York Times reported:

“When you’re just now addressing the easiest solutions, it doesn’t speak well for what Reddit’s priorities are,” said Brianna Wu, of Giant Spacekat, a gaming studio, who describes herself as a frequent target of the kind of abuse and harassment these new blocking abilities are aiming to prevent.

But in their defense, some Reddit employees suggest they simply had insufficient resources until recently to tackle this kind of issue.

“For a very long time it was all we could do to just keep the site up,” said Mr. Slowe. “Now we’re finally at a point where we’ve been growing the team and can deal with things like fundamental problems such as this.”

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