Reddit continues to protect racist language in favor of free speech

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Christian de Looper/Digital Trends

Reddit’s steadfast commitment to free speech is landing the company in hot water once again. A Reddit user questioned the site’s policies on whether posts containing racism and racial slurs violate Reddit’s terms, and CEO Steve Huffman revealed that said speech are permissible on the site, according to Gizmodo.

“On Reddit, the way in which we think about speech is to separate behavior from beliefs,” Huffman clarified. “This means on Reddit there will be people with beliefs different from your own, sometimes extremely so.”

It’s unclear if Huffman’s comments are representative of Reddit’s company policy, but protection of hate speech can — and do — lead to online harassment and cyberbullying. A recent study from Pew revealed that as many as 40 percent of Americans have experienced some form of harassment online.

And even if hate speech may still be protected content on Reddit, Huffman was quick to point out that any threat of violence is not tolerated on the site. “When users actions conflict with our own content policies, we take action,” he said. This distinction is consistent with Reddit’s prior policies for enforcement. Previously, Reddit was under fire when neo-Nazis used the site to incite violence. This prompted Reddit to ban affected community pages and clarify its terms to prohibit violence late last year.

“Going forward, we will take action against any content that encourages, glorifies, incites, or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or a group of people; likewise we will also take action against content that glorifies or encourages the abuse of animals,” the updated terms read, noting that “context is key.”

At the time, spokeswoman Anna Soellner told The New York Times that Reddit strives “to be a welcoming, open platform for all by trusting our users to maintain an environment that cultivates genuine conversation.

Reddit’s position on free speech — and its refusal to commit to an outright ban of hate speech — makes it one of the lone online communities in the digital age. Many of its peers, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Instagram, YouTube, Microsoft, Twitch, Playstation, Xbox Live, Steam, and Amazon — all have some policies prohibiting hate speech. Outside of hate speech, Reddit has had to make recent changes to adapt and grow with the internet, including removing communities that focus on drug use, sex work, and illegal activities.

Update: Reddit CEO Steve Huffman clarified the company’s position in an update, stating, “To be perfectly clear, while racism itself isn’t against the rules, it’s not welcome here.”

“There exist repugnant views in the world. As a result, these views may also exist on Reddit,” Huffman continued. “I don’t want them to exist on Reddit any more than I want them to exist in the world, but I believe that presenting a sanitized view of humanity does us all a disservice. It’s up to all of us to reject these views.”

Huffman said that the company’s policies will continue to evolve.