Censorship on Reddit – Are They Taking It Too Far?

Censorship is sometimes justified. For instance, it may be used to block out obvious hate messages or to eliminate spam content. In those essences, it is not true “censorship” but rather a quality assurance technique. The same can be said with WordPress blogs – not allowing any of those random spam comments to get through is completely understandable.


Photo: Gil C / Shutterstock

Sadly, sometimes censorship is not just used, but also abused. That’s exactly what is happening over at Reddit as of late and it has gotten many members furious. It has people talking as many have thought of Reddit as a place of free speech, with sub-sections that allow for discussions on even some blatantly illegal topics. Now, the trust in Reddit is starting to be questioned as its active users and casual browsers are starting to realize that there may be more content being squashed than what meets the eye.

What’s Being Censored on Reddit?

Before passing judgment, it is important to know all the circumstances. The censorship situation is not affecting all of Reddit. It may also be the result of a particular moderator and not a company orchestrated decision.

So, what content is subject to censorship on Reddit?

It is primarily posts made in /r/technology that has caused this recent uproar. Minor censorship has likely taken place throughout all sections of the website at some point in time, but the recent uptick in censorship volume has taken place in the technology section only.

Censorship also seemed to occur for specific words used within this section.

What Words Are Being Censored?

It has been claimed that upwards of 50 words were automatically filtered by a bot on Reddit in the /r/technology section. Whenever a post was made with any of these words, it would be censored.

Of course, this is too many words to list and some of the words may be up for debate as there are not credible sources for all circumstances. However, some of the more commonly confirmed words that were censored for Reddit users in the technology section included “Bitcoin”, “NSA” and “National Security Agency”, “net neutrality”, and “Snowden”.

See a theme? It’s mostly words the government either doesn’t like to hear or doesn’t want people talking about.

Could an Outside Authority Control Reddit?

Whether through acquisition or just by using the law to their advantage, it would not come as a surprise if any government agencies had their dirty hands involved with Reddit. It is the one respected and professional forum platform that allows people to speak their minds, and they do in ways that they wouldn’t in pretty much any other forum.

If the NSA is going through the effort of data mining your social media profiles and even the IRS is going down the same route, then why wouldn’t they compromise Reddit user’s data as well? This is not to say that they are, but it is definitely an interesting and plausible circumstance to consider. For what reason would they do this though? Censorship.

The power of a community like Reddit comes with people joining with other people to agree on their opinions. Some hot topics, such as stories pertaining to government officials, such as President Obama, may not be taken lightly. The NSA could even start to attempt to crackdown on content about them to silence the public belief and conception on how they contain information – after all, “NSA” is one of the trigger words that are being censored!

What Does Reddit Plan to Do?

It is important to understand that Reddit is a very big business. It’s not a car forum or fitness forum. It’s every forum combined and compiled into one. So there are many different sections on the Reddit website that are used for public discussions. These sections have different moderators and there is not always a clear communication line between the moderators and the head staff.

The moderators of the technology section declared that it was indeed a ‘disaster’ that they created by attempting to censor certain words within the section. Of course, this came after the fact and after a tremendous amount of pressure was put on them by, well, everyone.

The problem that it creates for Reddit, which also goes against the point of the community, is that it eliminates transparency. While the technology section does now have a public apology for the situation, it is not necessarily enough. Within the apology message, steps towards creating a transparent /r/technology are discussed. One of the most important pieces here is the now public viewing of the AutoModerator’s settings, which means that users can know if certain words, domains, etc., are prohibited.

What Words Are Censored Now?

The technology section now censors fairly as it only blocks words and phrases for actual reason, and not to sway away from certain discussions. For example, the term “kill yourself” is censored, which is hard to argue against as it has been used in negative context a lot on the Internet.

“FREE FREE FREE” is another blocked phrase, which also makes sense given the fact that it holds no relevance and would be a term used in a spam comment. Many other obvious spam phrases and domain URLs are on the list. Hate terms against African Americans and homosexuals are included as well. Probably the most interesting term that’s on the list would be “illiterate inner city ghetto”, with the f-word added to the end. Of course it’s inappropriate, but what are the chances of someone typing that specific string of words?

Where Does Reddit Go From Here?

To put it simple, this is just a speed bump for Reddit. The community that uses this website religiously will not avoid it as a result of the poor decisions of one or a few moderators. With new approaches to transparency now being in place, it will only further the confidence that members have for the technology section and the Reddit community as a whole.