Gina Mei
May 15, 2015 1:11 pm

In a blog post on Thursday titled “Promote ideas, protect people,” Reddit officially announced that they would be taking a much more proactive role in preventing harassment on their site.

TL;DR: We are unhappy with harassing behavior on Reddit; we have survey data that show our users are, too,” the site summarized. “So we’ve improved our practices to better curb harassment of individuals on Reddit.”

According to the post, the site intends to change its policies to “prohibit personal attacks and harassment of individuals,” in the hopes of preventing them. This is a big move, and we’re happy to see it. It’s always great when a website makes an active effort to protect its users, but the change feels particularly essential given just how prevalent online harassment has become. According to a study by the Pew Research Center last year, at least 60% of Internet users have witnessed online harassment, and 40% have experienced it. Now, Reddit wants to provide a better way for people to report it.

Here’s how the site is defining harassment:

For Reddit, this is a tricky line to walk, and many were quick to point out that part of the fundamental joy of the site is its support of freedom of speech and opinions. In the past, the website has prided itself on its “hands-off” approach, predominantly leaving any “policing” to subreddit-appointed moderators and only stepping in if things got out of hand. This will largely still be the case; but now, Reddit is relying on individual users to report harassment directly to the site’s employees via email. The site insists that this will not affect the core of Reddit’s ideals as “a pretty open platform and free speech place” — but rather, will help strengthen them and grow the community.

Citing a survey of over 15,000 redditors from last month, Reddit says that rather than promoting free expression, their open policies seem to be stifling it — even causing some users to avoid participating out of “fear of their personal and family safety.” They also found that the number one reason redditors don’t recommend the site to others is because they don’t want to expose friends and family to “hate and offensive content.” They hope that by taking a harsher stand, they can help to reverse this.

“This change will have no immediately noticeable impact on more than 99.99% of our users,” they said in the post. “It is specifically designed to prevent attacks against people, not ideas. It is our challenge to balance free expression of ideas with privacy and safety as we seek to maintain and improve the quality and range of discourse on Reddit.”

The move is the latest in a series of changes to the site, many of which have happened with Ellen Pao as interim CEO. Just last month, Pao banned salary negotiations for the company; and earlier this year, the site cracked down on revenge porn and illegally distributed nudes, particularly of celebrities.

“We’ve heard a lot of complaints and found that even our existing users were unhappy with the content on the site,” Pao told The New York Times. “We don’t think this behavior represents what Reddit is.”

Pao hopes that the change will possibly set an example for other sites, as well, and to prevent any online harassment that began at their site from spreading further. Given just how strong Reddit’s influence is on the Internet, we believe it. (Let’s be real: Every meme we’ve ever loved has probably either originated from Reddit, 4Chan, or Imgur.)

“From the very start, the goal of Reddit was to get as many people expressing their ideas as freely as possible from all over the world,” Alexis Ohanian, executive chairman of Reddit, told The New York Times. “My opinion on this has not wavered.”

We look forward to seeing the change in action.

(Image via.)

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