Reddit tells press to call subreddits “communities” unless they ban them, in which case they’re “subreddits”

The more formal name helps to dehumanize the communities.


Reddit is making efforts to maintain a tight grip on language to control the message around its identity and policy, specifically, the way it's presented in the media. The social platform's press and broadcast guidelines that, among other things, reveal the company's preferred usage of the word “community.”

Reddit wants the terms “community” or “Reddit community” to be used to describe what is commonly known as a “subreddit” – in all cases, that is, except when that community gets banned. Then, Reddit wants the press to use the phrase “subreddit.”

This looks like an attempt to, in a sense, dehumanize banned communities and present decisions to ban and censor as less negative than they may be – because it would sound pretty bad to say that a community has been banned. A banned subreddit, on the other hand, elicits a much less empathetic reaction.

Not least because – although everyone understands the meaning of the word “community” that has an unmistakably positive connotation – the term “subreddit” is “less well understood by a larger audience.” This point is made in Reddit's brand guidelines. The idea seems to be that when a reader of an article, unfamiliar with the terminology around Reddit, finds out that a subreddit has been banned, it shouldn't really matter to them, and wouldn't paint the platform in a negative light.

In short: Reddit wants to profit, image-and message-wise from a positive word like community, but also to introduce a degree of detachment and indifference toward the fate of those the company disagrees with to the point of banning them.

The mention of differentiating Reddit as a platform from its userbase who are collectively “the Reddit community” is also made elsewhere in the guidelines.

Meanwhile on r/WatchRedditDie – a subreddit dedicated to monitoring what is seen as the decline of free speech on this social media site – most commenters seem to agree that the distinction made between “community” and “subreddit,” and Reddit's preferred way of using them, is subtle but important.

The way language is manipulated to produce a desired emotional effect – or make sure that there is none – has reminded some of the way propaganda works.


Didi Rankovic

Didi Rankovic is an experienced online journalist, editor, and translator, with a career spanning over ten years writing for major a English-language website in Serbia, and previously working as translator for international organizations and peacekeepers in the Balkans. Rankovic is passionate about free and open source tech and is a head contributor for Reclaim The Net, focusing on lead stories. [email protected]