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Terms & Conditions: Reddit’s user agreement is a joke

Terms & Conditions: Reddit

What are you really agreeing to when you click that fateful “agree” button? Terms & Conditions cuts out the legal lingo to spell it out in plain English.

Popular. Influential. Irreverent. Diverse. Vast. Deep. Ridiculous. This is Reddit, “the front page of the Internet,” a complex online community that rivals all other online communities through its massive user base, civic action, genuine heart, and influence on digital media at large.

Over the past week, however, the mostly self-regulated Reddit community has experienced an identity crisis. The heavily-trafficked /r/politics subreddit (a single community, in Reddit speak) and many others have blocked all links to Gawker Media sites after news broke that Gawker’s Adrian Chen — (in)famous for his criticisms of Reddit — planned to expose the identity of Reddit moderator and power-user Violentacrez, the 49-year-old man behind many of the most controversial subreddits, including the now-banned /r/jailbait, /r/incest and, most recently, /r/CreepShots.

Given the new spotlight on Reddit’s rules and standards, now seems like as good a time as any for us here at T&C to tackle Reddit’s user agreement (i.e. terms of service). Needless to say, what I found was not pretty.

User Agreement

Rather than trudge through a point-by-point explanation of Reddit’s full user agreement — most of it’s fairly boring and straightforward — we’re going to focus on one main section: “Use of Service by You.”

Rules? We don’t need no stinking rules.

Reddit’s user agreement lists a wide variety of things so-called redditors may not do on the site. As we will see below, however, a few key rules appear to serve no purpose whatsoever — they are broken constantly, on every level. Let’s take a closer look.

Note: I’m purposefully leaving out Reddit’s rules against spam, impersonation of others, the exposure of other’s personal information, hacking or DDoSing Reddit, and a couple of other restrictions that are either mostly inconsequential, or are effectively policed by Reddit staffers and the community.

1. Nothing hateful: “You agree not to use any obscene, indecent, or offensive language or to provide to or post on or through the Website any graphics, text, photographs, images, video, audio or other material that is defamatory, abusive, bullying, harassing, racist, hateful, or violent. You agree to refrain from ethnic slurs, religious intolerance, homophobia, and personal attacks when using the Website.”

Yeah, right: First off, Reddit’s larger communities do a good job of downvoting comments that blatantly violate this provision. But a quick search for obvious offenders shows that such ideas are often tolerated, and even embraced without recourse.


2. Nothing sexual: “You further agree not to use any sexually suggestive language or to provide to or post on or through the Website any graphics, text, photographs, images, video, audio or other material that is sexually suggestive or appeals to a prurient interest.”

Yeah, right: Hahahahahahaha. Hahaha. Hahahahhahahaahahaha. WHAT?! Sexual content and language is ubiquitous throughout the site, including on highly popular, mainstream subreddits, like /r/pics. (Which should come as no surprise, considering the average redditor is a 20-something male.) Of course, we don’t even have to explain why the roughly 1,000 NSFW subreddits, like /r/gonewild, /r/nsfw, or /r/realgirls, trample all over this rule.

3. No copyright infringement: “You are responsible for ensuring that any graphics, text, photographs, images, video, audio or other material you provide to or post on the Website, including without limitation in bulletin boards, forums, personal ads, chats or elsewhere, does not violate the copyright, trademark, trade secret or any other personal or proprietary rights of any third party or is provided or posted with the permission of the owner(s) of such rights.”

Yeah, right: Sigh… A strong respect for copyright Reddit does not have. This is especially true of pictures, which are almost exclusively pulled from sources with the proper licensing, then posted by users to the photo-hosting site Imgur (which was created by a redditor) before being submitted to Reddit.

Here’s a recent example that hit Reddit’s front page. The photo was actually taken by an Associated Press photographer — a particularly egregious offense considering Reddit has devoted an entire section of its user agreement toward the prohibition of inappropriately posted content from the AP, which is known to aggressively fight copyright infringement.

Some balance

Now that we’ve outlined the sheer futility of Reddit’s user agreement, a bit of clarification is in order. First, Reddit as a whole is governed by an entirely different set of voluntary principles, called “Reddiquette,” which redditors (and the subreddits they follow) tend to abide by with reasonable consistency. Second, each subreddit has its own rules, established by the community’s moderators. For example, /r/videos explicitly bans any political content, porn or gore, or videos containing personal information. If you want to post any of that stuff, you’ll have to find another subreddit that accepts those categories of content.

Finally, Reddit has an entirely separate page of “rules,” which is short and to-the-point. The rules are:

  • Don’t spam.
  • Don’t engage in vote cheating or manipulation. 
  • Don’t post personal info. (A rule Chen violated with his article.)
  • No child pornography or sexually suggestive content featuring minors. (A rule Violentacrez tested to the point of maximum elasticity.)
  • Don’t break the site or do anything that interferes with normal use of the site.

Given Reddit’s clear commitment to openness, it should come as no surprise that these are the only true restrictions imposed upon the community, more or less. And that’s perfectly fine — free speech is a great principle to uphold. But if these are the only rules that matter, why bother with the rest?

Image via Gow27/Shutterstock

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