Former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong has weighed in on the controversy spurred by the website’s recent decision to shut down certain discussions groups, known as subreddits.
Banning the subreddits, some of which were dedicated to demeaning overweight people, is not an attempt to curb free speech, Wong wrote in a post on Quora. Rather he said, it’s simply a move to prevent people from being harassed in real life.
In fact, Wong said, making disparaging remarks about people is perfectly fine — so long as it’s done on the Reddit.
“/r/fatpeoplehate was not banned for hating on fat people. You can do that on reddit,” Wong wrote. “/r/fatpeoplehate was banned because its users were targeting people off of reddit and harassing them. Upon investigation, it was found that not only were the mods participating in it, they were at times even encouraging it.”
Under a new harassment policy, Reddit banned five communities, or subreddits, last week that it said “break our reddit rules based on their harassment of individuals.” These included the r/HamPlanetHatred (an anti-fat person community), r/TransF*gs (anti-transgender), r/neof*g (criticising video game forum NeoGAF), r/ShitN****rsSay (racism), and — most notably — r/FatPeopleHate subreddits. (We have used asterisks to avoid offending readers.)
The backlash was swift in the community as many interpreted the ban of the subreddits as an attack on users free speech and a sign that the company was going to start banning content it found morally objectionable.
That’s entirely false, Wong said.
“The key problem with a community site that allows any type of legal content is this: At some point, discussion and ideas can result in real-life actions,” Wong wrote.
Before he stepped down as Reddit CEO in November and promoted Ellen Pao to interim CEO, discussions had already begun on how to stop harassment from spreading from the site into real life. He mentioned the r/FatPeopleHate subreddit as being a particular problem when users carelessly posted links to Facebook pages, which resulted in “real-life harassment of these individuals.”
“They tried, but trying and failing even 1% of the time means that your subreddit causes non-trivial amounts of real-world harm to people once your subreddit gets big enough,” Wong wrote. The r/FatPeopleHate subreddit reportedly had 150,000 subscribers when it was banned.
Wong interpreted the policy as not banning people harassing each other on Reddit itself, but behaviour that leads to harassment off the site.
“Thus, I don’t think reddit is putting a stop to the mockery of fat people or fat acceptance in general,” Wong wrote. “It’s not becoming a ‘safe space’ for fat people or anyone else: if you mention on reddit that you are fat, and a bunch of users then reply with a bunch of mocking comments on reddit, the company will likely take no action.”
“You are free to be an arsehole on reddit (within communities whose mods allow it), but keep it on reddit,” Wong concluded.