This year, Reddit cut the reach of many high profile communities, including The Donald and Chapo Trap House, by marking them as “quarantined.” When asked to explain the reasons behind quarantining, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman admitted that the policies are kept intentionally vague to give the company “room for interpretation” when applying the rules. Now Reddit has rolled out another vague policy update, this time for its rules on bullying and harassment.
Previously, Reddit’s policy against bullying and harassment was reasonably specific. It required users to provide examples of rule-breaking behavior, the behavior had to be “continued” or “systemic,” and the behavior had to make users fear for their safety.
Under today’s updated policy, most of the specificity is gone and instead Reddit has filled the policy with vague terms that give the company plenty of room for interpretation when deciding whether something constitutes bullying or harassment.
Here’s what Reddit now says are examples of behavior that “crosses the line” under this new policy:
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- Behaving in a way that would discourage a reasonable person from participating on Reddit
- Menacing someone
- Anything that works to shut someone out of the conversation through intimidation or abuse, online or off
- Directing unwanted invective at someone
- Directing abuse at a person or group
- Following people around the site
- Encouraging others to do any of these actions
This updated policy against bullying and harassment also doesn’t require users to provide examples of rule-breaking behavior, show that the behavior is consistent, or even report the behavior themselves. If a bystander decides that a user is bullying or harassing another user, even if that user doesn’t report the incident themselves, Reddit may still investigate.
Reddit says that the introduction of this new policy will allow it to “take action at scale” and since the changes were announced, Reddit users have reported that over 50 subreddits have been purged. Many subreddit moderators have also reportedly received messages from Reddit admins warning them to clean up their communities.
As it rolls out this updated policy, Reddit will also be using machine-learning tools to process user reports but insists that these “machines will only help us organize and prioritize user reports” and “won’t be banning content or users on their own.”
The introduction of this vague new policy against bullying and harassment by Reddit follows many other platforms introducing equally vague and difficult-to-interpret rules and policies this year.
For example, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki recently said that the video sharing platform will continue to reduce “borderline” content – a term that describes content that doesn’t break any rules but “brushes right up against” them. Instagram also uses this same “borderline” content term to shadowban posts that don’t break any of its rules. Both policies allow the platforms to ban content and users indiscriminately, regardless of whether a rule violation has occurred.
Earlier this year, digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) warned that online terms of service (TOS) and other speech moderation rules are often applied unevenly – a trend that leaves users in the dark and makes it impossible to know how to stick to the rules. However, the tech giants seem to be unwilling to heed this warning as they continue to publish vague rules and guidelines.