Reddit will censor posts and communities in certain countries in response to takedown requests from authorities, the company confirmed on Thursday night.
A post in r/rudrugs is no longer available to Reddit users in Russia, while the controversial community r/WatchPeopleDie is banned to users in Germany.
The Russian ban relates to a post on how to grow psilocybin mushrooms (AKA magic mushrooms, a psychoactive drug). Earlier this week, the Russian government threatened to ban Reddit — and then did so temporarily — over the post, saying it violated local laws. It has since been unbanned.
There’s no more information immediately available about the German ban of r/WatchPeopleDie, but Reddit says that the bans were made “in order to preserve the existence of Reddit in those regions” — indicating that Germany also threatened a site-wide ban if Reddit didn’t take action.
It appears that this is the first time Reddit has publicly announced localised censorship, and we’ve reached out to the site for confirmation on this.
Reddit, as an American company, has no legal obligation to comply with such requests. But failing to do so could result in the entire site being banned in certain countries. Other tech companies (including Twitter and Google) will also comply with localised removal requests they deem valid, and publish regular transparency reports detailing these requests.
Strangely, the Russian mushroom post isn’t even new. It was made 2 years ago, in April 2013, and received just 1 upvote before it was archived due to age. It’s not clear why it has only now attracted the ire of Russian authorities.
Roskomnadzor (abbreviated as RKN) is the Russian government media watchdog responsible for the ban. Russia has frequently been accused of internet censorship in the past. Websites on topics ranging from bitcoin to opposition activists have been banned, and it also requires blogs above a certain size to register with authorities.
RKN made the following post on Russian social network Vkontakte about Reddit’s compliance, as translated by TechCrunch:
On August 13, federal officials received on their “hot line” a message from the site’s administrators saying Internet users in Russia no longer have access to the illegal content. Roskomnadzor has confirmed [Reddit’s] full compliance, and accordingly removed the website from the registry of illegal online materials.
Reddit has recently revisited its content guidelines for what it allows on the site, following significant user protests that led to the departure of CEO Ellen Pao. Reddit has previously been viewed as a staunch defender of free speech. It now says that it will remove anything that incites harm of violence against an individual or group of people” but content “that violates a common sense of decency” will only be hidden from unregistered users. Steve Huffman, one of Reddit’s cofounders who became CEO after Pao left, gave two examples: r/BeatingWomen, as an incitement to violence, is banned; r/CoonTown, a notorious racist community, is not.
Here’s the full statement from Reddit, posted to r/ChillingEffects, about the ban:
This week, Reddit received valid legal requests from Germany and Russia requesting the takedown of content that violated local law. As a result, /r/watchpeopledie was blocked from German IPs, and a post in /r/rudrugs was blocked from Russian IP’s in order to preserve the existence of reddit in those regions. We want to ensure our services are available to users everywhere, but if we receive a valid request from an authorised entity, we reserve the right to restrict content in a particular country. We will work to find ways to make this process more transparent and streamlined as Reddit continues to grow globally.