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Reddit does the honorable thing and changes site policy

reddit-alienReddit, the social news website, has announced it has added a new site rule, which represents a change in what’s allowed to be posted. From today, the site will no longer allow “suggestive or sexual content featuring minors.”

From a site that has seen an astonishing 28 million unique visitors and 1.8 billion page views in a 30-day period, making it just about as mainstream as it’s possible to get on the Internet, many will question why such a rule either hasn’t been enforced up until now, or why it’s really needed in the first place. After all, who needs clarification on whether it’s OK to post illegal content?

As a result of the new policy, Reddit has also closed down sections that focused on the “sexualization of children”, to use Reddit’s own phrasing; a cull that saw more than 20 subreddits disappear.

This comes several months after Anderson Cooper mounted an attack on the r/jailbait subreddit after illegal content was shared, resulting in its closure. 

While Cooper’s words gained the most public attention, they were in part driven by a campaign to force Reddit to clean up its act by SomethingAwful.com, which is also believed to be instrumental in today’s change of Reddit policy too.

Censorship?

Despite all the negative attention, Reddit insists it followed all the legal guidelines and reporting procedures, and that the change in policy comes “because interpreting the vague and debated legal guidelines on a case by case basis has become a massive distraction and risks Reddit being pulled in to legal quagmire.”

A heated debate on whether the subreddits even included illegal material has sprung up on Hacker News, where some claim the move is censorship, while others say as the government isn’t involved, it’s no such thing.

The official post continues, saying “We understand that this might make some of you worried about the slippery slope from banning one specific type of content to banning other types of content,” and that it “will tirelessly defend the right to freely share information on Reddit in any way we can.”

There are concerns amongst the Reddit community that the site will bow to pressure to close other subreddits deemed to be offensive. If, as some also believe, SomethingAwful.com is enjoying a degree of control over Reddit’s content, then other objectionable — but crucially not illegal — subreddits will be targeted next.

While nobody will miss the topics closed today, could the price of mainstream success for Reddit be the closure of other, less salacious but equally illegal, sections such as r/trees in the near future? If so, will it be the right thing to do anyway?