Reddit Upholds Free Speech Policy as Controversy Mounts
Following a bout of controversy regarding questionable or distasteful content posted on Reddit, a user-powered social news site, CEO Yishan Wong has ordered that the site’s policy of free speech shall be maintained, regardless of how societally unacceptable that content may be found by most.
Reddit has recently come under fire as a result of one particularly trollish user, Michael Brutsch AKA Violentacrez. Brutsch has become notorious for his posting material designed to offend, including images of scantily-clad underage girls in the “Jailbait” subreddit forum, the moderation of another subreddit called “Creepshots” which shows voyeuristic images of women taken without their knowledge, and various other posts that have been labeled as racist, misogynistic, and otherwise unseemly in its content. Brutsch came to widespread attention following an article posted on Gawker revealed the user’s true identity, and was considered by many to be an attack on the site’s practices and uers, thus leading to a user-initated ban on Gawker articles.
Despite the controversy, Reddit, which bills itself as “the front page of the internet,” has remained steadfast in its commitment to providing a forum of free speech. In a leaked memo, Wong defended this dogma as being essential to the site’s continued existence.
“We stand for free speech,” wrote Wong. “This means we are not going to ban distasteful subreddits. We will not ban legal content even if we find it odious or if we personally condemn it. Not because that’s the law in the United States – because as many people have pointed out, privately-owned forums are under no obligation to uphold it – but because we believe in that ideal independently, and that’s what we want to promote on our platform. We are clarifying that now because in the past it wasn’t clear, and (to be honest) in the past we were not completely independent and there were other pressures acting on Reddit. Now it’s just Reddit, and we serve the community, we serve the ideals of free speech, and we hope to ultimately be a universal platform for human discourse (cat pictures are a form of discourse).”
At the same time, Wong condemned the Gawker ban, stating that ”we chose to recognize that opponents have the right to criticize us, to expose us, to tell a story about us – even if we don’t like that story or we feel it’s wrong.”
Wong’s full memo may be read here.