Reddit’s War on Hate Speech is Working

The changes are minimal, but they're there

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Yesterday, Reddit released a report showing that their recent commitment to tackling hate speech on the website has been working – albeit minimally. 

Back in June, Reddit decided to take a stand against hate speech on the platform, stating: “We recognize our role in being a place for community discourse, where people can disagree and share opposing views, but that does not mean that we need to be a platform that tolerates hate”.

In a call to reporters, Reddit’s CEO Steve Huffman admitted to struggling to balance his own “American values” around freedom of expression and free speech, with his own and his (and his company’s) values about “common human decency”.

He also added, “Harassing speech or hateful speech prevents people from coming to Reddit and feeling safe and sharing their vulnerabilities … So if we have speech on Reddit that’s preventing people from using Reddit the way that we intend it to be used, or that prevents us from achieving our mission, then it’s actually a very easy decision”.

Subsequently, Reddit banned some 2000 subreddits –  including r/DarkHumorAndMemes, r/ConsumeProduct, r/DarkJokeCentral, r/GenderCritical, and r/The_Donald – which, they said, had been violating their policies and community guidelines for years.

Prior to this first wave of bans, Reddit reported that 0.2% of Reddit’s daily content was made up of hate speech, roughly equating to 40 000 posts, comments, and messages shared on the site. They said that hate targeted at people for their race and ethnicity made up the bulk of this documented hate speech on Reddit at 48%, with 16% targeted at users’ class or political affiliation, 12% at their sexuality, 8% at their gender, 1% at disability, and the remaining 7% accounting for an “unclear” category. 

Though they recognize that these categories are generalized, Hoffman claims they hope to look at them at a more “granular” level later down the line. 

It is estimated that, previously, hate speech was getting 6.47M views per day (approximately 0.16% of total views).

Now, Reddit has banned almost 7000 subreddits, all of which were viewed by approximately 365k users each day prior to their bans. The banned subreddits all fall under one (or more) of three categories:

  • Subreddits with names and descriptions that are inherently hateful
  • Subreddits with a large fraction of hateful content
  • Subreddits that positively engage with hateful content (these subreddits may not necessarily have a large fraction of hateful content, but they promote it when it exists)

And, it seems to be working. According to their latest update, hate speech has dropped by 18% since two weeks before the initial policy was introduced. Noting this, Hoffman writes: “While I would love that number to be 100%, I’m encouraged by the progress”.