Reddit founder Steve Huffman said in 2009 that the site had “always banned hate speech, and we always will.”
But nine years later, Huffman and the site seem to have reversed course, and critics say the site is becoming a haven for hate speech.
Open displays of racism — including openly racist subreddits — has always been a contentious topic and a struggle for the site. In the earlier days of Reddit, Huffman took a hardline stance on the topic, saying in a 2009 thread that the site would ban all hate speech.
“This isn’t any change in policy: we’ve always banned hate speech, and we always will. It’s not up for debate,” Huffman wrote. “You can b**** and moan all you like, but me and my team aren’t going to be responsible for encouraging behaviors that lead to hate.”
That policy has apparently reversed at some point in the last nine years. In a chat with users this week, the site’s CEO clarified that while racism was “not welcome” on the site, the site would not regulate speech. As SBS News noted, Huffman said that “on Reddit, the way in which we think about speech is to separate behavior from beliefs”.
“This means on Reddit there will be people with beliefs different from your own, sometimes extremely so,” he added. “When users’ actions conflict with our content policies, we take action.”
Racist communities have often thrived on Reddit. As Gawker noted in 2015, white supremacists even saw Reddit as a fertile ground to recruit young and socially dissatisfied white men into their racist movements.
The site has since taken action against some of its most overtly racist subreddits, deleting ones like r/CoonTown. Engadget noted Reddit found some success in these bans, getting the most extremist elements off the site. But critics say the site remains a haven for hate speech.
One of the most frequently cited examples is The_Donald, the Trump-supporting subreddit. The site was active in promoting the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last year that attracted neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups. The site frequently encouraged members to attend the rally and called for more moderate members of the right to ally with openly racist groups, saying that their goals of “preserving without shame white culture” were aligned.
— The Verge (@verge) April 11, 2018
More recently, members of The_Donald have targeted the Parkland school shooting survivors turned gun reform activists, with a number of threads attacking them personally, including accusing them of being “crisis actors” and comparing them to the Hitler Youth movement.
While it is not clear what led to the reversal of hate speech on Reddit, some have suggested that money is a major factor. As Qz.com noted, Reddit has appeared slow to ban even communities that violate sitewide rules because they can often be an important source of advertising revenue and “Reddit gold,” which users can purchase for submissions or comments they like.