Technology

Reddit to 'hide 'abhorrent' content in policy change

Reddit screenshot Image copyright Reddit
Image caption The changes were announced as part of an AMA - Ask Me Anything - session

It will be more difficult to find "abhorrent" content posted to community news site Reddit, the site has announced.

It stopped short of banning the material outright and instead will require users to log-in to access it.

The company reiterated its existing complete bans of illegal content, including child abuse images and so-called "revenge porn".

Some users argue the site is acting against its free speech principles.

Newly-instated chief executive and co-founder Steve Huffman told users: "We've spent the last few days here discussing, and agree that an approach like this allows us as a company to repudiate content we don't want to associate with the business, but gives individuals freedom to consume it if they choose."

He made the announcement after over a week of controversy surrounding the site's policies, its management and direction.

'No revenue'

The hugely popular site allows users to share links on any conceivable subject. Other users are then able to up- or down-vote links, meaning the most popular content surfaces to the top and is more prominent.

The site is divided into subreddits for certain topics, such as r/technology or r/worldnews.

However, some subreddits deal with extremely dark material - such as the sharing of images of dead bodies, or extremely racist material that advocates violence.

It is this material that will be hidden away, but not deleted, Mr Huffman said.

"This classification will require a login, must be opted into, will not appear in search results or public listings, and will generate no revenue for Reddit," he said, adding that such areas violated "a common sense of decency".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ellen Pao resigned after a huge user backlash

The new policy was a work in progress, he said.

"If the hateful users continue to spill out into mainstream Reddit, we will try more aggressive approaches.

"Freedom of expression is important to us, but it's more important to us that we at Reddit be true to our mission," he said. "We believe there is value in letting all views exist, even if we find some of them abhorrent."

Sarah Jeong, author of The Internet of Garbage, which looks at online abuse, said the announcement was unusual.

"Delisting or deindexing subreddits is an attempt to strike a balance, but it's a bizarre one," she told the BBC.

"It's a middle-of-the-road approach that neither 'preserves' freedom of speech nor really rehabilitates Reddit's image."

Bullying

While some content on Reddit can be easily defined as wrong or illegal, users and moderators on the site have often clashed over more ambiguous areas of the website.

In June, the subreddit r/fatpeoplehate - which has 151,000 subscribers - was banned by the site under its anti-harassment rule.

But some users felt this limited free speech on the site.

It was this episode - and the sacking of a popular employee - which led to the opening of a petition to have the interim chief executive Ellen Pao removed from her post.

Ms Pao resigned last week.

Yishan Wong, another former Reddit chief executive, said Ms Pao had been unfairly treated by the board.

Writing in the Washington Post, Ms Pao said on Thursday that the "trolls are winning the battle for the internet".

Follow Dave Lee on Twitter @DaveLeeBBC

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