Reddit downgrades technology community after censorship

Reddit screenshotImage source, Reddit
Image caption,
Technology is no longer listed at the top of new Reddit members' screens

Social news site Reddit has downgraded the status of its "technology" section after a censorship row.

The category is no longer a "default subreddit", meaning it stops being one of two dozen communities promoted to new account holders.

It follows a report by the Daily Dot that revealed headlines posted to the area had been secretly deleted if they featured certain words.

The subreddit's own moderators now acknowledge that this was a "disaster".

Reddit describes itself as "the front page of the internet".

It had about 115 million unique visitors last month, according to its own data, and more than 6,500 active subreddit communities, all moderated by independent volunteers.

Members can submit links to articles to each community, for which they provide their own headlines.

Other members then up-vote or down-vote the links, which determines how prominently they feature both in each individual section and on a core list of the most popular posts. Users can also submit comments, leading to lively discussions.

The site is majority-owned by media group Conde Nast's parent Advance Publications, and has proven particularly popular with 18-30 year-old males.

This audience-profile closely matches that of many of the major tech blogs and, as such, articles that have attracted interest on the technology subreddit have helped drive traffic to these third-party sites.

However, the section will now be much less visible to people who have either not edited their "subscriptions" to include it or have visited Reddit without logging in.

After a similar action was taken against Reddit's "politics" community last year it experienced a steep decline in activity.

Reddit said that it had acted because the technology community's moderators had become distracted by "petty squabbles".

"We decided to remove /r/technology from the default list because the moderation team lost focus of what they were there to do: moderate effectively," the site's director of communications Victoria Taylor told the BBC.

"We're giving them time to see if we feel they can work together to resolve the issue.

"We might consider adding them back in the future if they can show us and the community that they can overcome these issues."

Banned words

The issue was brought to light by a Reddit user nicknamed Creq who posted a message to the site a week ago suggesting that 20 terms had been banned.

He said the list of censored words included: "National Security Agency", "GCHQ", "Anonymous", "anti-piracy", "Bitcoin", "Snowden" and "net neutrality".

It later became clear that other terms, including "EU Court", "startup" and "Assange" had also been blocked.

Image source, Reddit
Image caption,
An apology has been posted to the top of the technology subreddit's page

When the Daily Dot questioned one of the section's volunteer moderators about this, he confirmed that software was being used to automatically delete posts that featured "politicised" words in order to avoid the links making it to the core list of most popular topics.

The Daily Dot subsequently reflected that: "Many would argue those terms have an essential value to readers interested in technology, but the ban was never put up for discussion among the subreddit's millions of subscribers."

The news caused controversy with those users, prompting a U-turn.

"As many of you are aware the moderators of this subreddit have failed you," the volunteers wrote in a message to Reddit visitors over the weekend.

"While the intent of this system was, to the extent of my knowledge, not malicious it ended up being a disaster. We messed up, and we are sorry.

"The mods directly responsible for this system are no longer a part of the team and the new team is committed to maintaining a transparent style of moderation."

One of the changes taken, they added, was to allow the general population to view a configuration page that listed banned materials.

While links to pornography and petitions remain blocked, it reveals that most of the censored headline words can now be used again.

However, the move has failed to placate several of the subreddit's visitors who are now calling for a further two of the section's surviving moderators to resign.

"Please note that it's not the censorship the [Reddit] admins worry about," added the moderator of a censorship-themed subreddit.

"They've never spoken out against it.

"The problem is that there's zero transparency, zero accountability. That's the real story here."

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