Interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to online harassment.
Last week, Reddit introduced controversial new rules to fight the rampant harassment and make users feel safer on the mega-popular social sharing and community site.
Some of Reddit’s user base saw it as censorship, as too vague to possibly enforce, or as Reddit pandering to a vocal minority of complainers.
Many others appreciated the principle behind Reddit’s anti-harassment stance, but saw the anti-harassment policy as lacking teeth, given the fact that Reddit wouldn’t lay out specifics of what it would do with any reports of harassment.
To defend the new anti-harassment policy, Pao went on NPR’s All Things Considered to give comments that only further confused the situation.
When asked if Reddit would ever delete offensive subreddits (small communities within Reddit) like “Gas The Kikes” (which actually exists) if it made a Jewish user uncomfortable, Pao basically dodged the question (emphasis ours):
The question is whether it would make them fear for their safety, or the safety of those around them or where it makes them feel like it’s not a safe platform. Somebody expressing ideas that aren’t consistent with everybody’s views is something that we encourage. There are certain posts that do make people feel unsafe, that people feel threatened or they feel that their family or friends or people near them are going to be unsafe, and those are the specific things that we are focused on today.
It’s not our site’s goal to be a completely free-speech platform. We want to be a safe platform and we want to be a platform that also protects privacy at the same time.
In other words, Pao isn’t ruling out the idea that Reddit could heavily moderate comments, but won’t give specifics on who or how.
Right now, Pao says that the team dealt with 20 to 30 harassment claims in the past “half a week,” and that Reddit is building tools to find and deal with repeat offenders using fake, so-called “throwaway” accounts.
It’s understandable that Pao and the Reddit team want to provide a safer space without pissing off the base of users that have gotten it to its current 100-million-user strong peaks of success.
But if it’s serious about fighting harassment, Reddit is going to have to go public with an enforceable set of specific rules, and soon, or else it’s going to completely alienate both camps.