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Reddit to users: Express yourself, sure, but don't harass

With its new antiharassment policy, the social-networking and news site says it wants to "balance the free expression of ideas with privacy and safety."

Less harassment means more free expression, says Reddit CEO Ellen Pao.
Less harassment means more free expression, says Reddit CEO Ellen Pao.

Popular social-networking and news site Reddit is adopting a new antiharassment policy, after a company survey found that some users shied away from the site and wouldn't recommend it to other people because of abusive posts and content.

The new policy, announced in a company blog post Thursday, prohibits "attacks and harassment of individuals through Reddit" and follows a 15,000-user survey conducted by the site last month. That study found that negative comments appended to posts "have made people uncomfortable contributing" to the site and that the No. 1 reason users don't recommend Reddit is because "they want to avoid exposing friends to hate and offensive content."

"The community wants these improvements," Reddit's interim CEO, Ellen Pao, said in a separate statement. "We believe less harassment means more participation, leading to more free expression, better conversations and better communities."

Founded in 2005, Reddit, which had nearly 170 million visitors to its site last month, has long seen itself as a venue where people could share whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. That emphasis on freedom of expression has attracted people who've weighed in on everything from politics to food to sports. The site has more than 9,000 active communities, called subreddits, where participants can discuss topics and share content.

But the anything-goes approach has also led to an underbelly of harsh commentaries by some users and to small subreddits that have engaged in potentially illicit and explicit activities, including the posting of sexually suggestive images of children. (That practice was banned by the site in 2012.) In late February, Reddit updated its privacy policy to protect people from so-called also known as " revenge porn." That update prohibits users from posting any photos, video or digital images containing sexually explicit content of someone else without that person's permission.

Reddit isn't alone in evolving its policies to deal with disturbing and abusive content. Many of the world's largest social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, are fighting to eliminate hate-filled messages and other disturbing posts on their pages. In March, Twitter clamped down on revenge porn and added a tool designed to make it easier to report harassment. That same month, Facebook updated its community standards to provide more guidance on policies related to bullying, harassment, hate speech and graphic content, among other things. It's all part of a growing effort to police the wild frontier that is the Internet.

In Thursday's post about the new antiharassment policy, Reddit said it now defines harassment as:

Systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person (1) conclude that Reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation, or (2) fear for their safety or the safety of those around them.

Under the new policy, users who are harassed or see inappropriate behavior will now be able to email Reddit employees who serve as moderators and can remove content and also ban abusive users from the site.

In its blog post, Reddit emphasized its free-speech roots. The new policy "will have no immediately noticeable impact on more than 99.99 percent of our users," the company said. "It is specifically designed to prevent attacks against people, not ideas. It is our challenge to balance free expression of ideas with privacy and safety as we seek to maintain and improve the quality and range of discourse on Reddit."

That discourse seemed as robust as ever Thursday. The announcement of the new policy led to scores of comments within the Reddit community.