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Under Pao's leadership, Reddit takes action on bullying

Users can now contact Reddit directly if they feel threatened or unsafe on the site

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
May 14, 2015
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/3dce

As we have all seen on any message board ever, conversations on the Internet can quickly devolve into shouting, name calling and worse. That is why so many sites have taken steps to protect their users, and to make sure that everyone feels as safe as possible.

Reddit was a notable holdout. The site has long had a history of allowing its users to self police and allow members to take care of cases of bullying and harassment. 

Unsurprisingly, this has led to numerous users feeling unsafe, the site found when it conducted a survey of over 15,000 redditors in March. Users became less willing to engage in conversations on the site when they did not feel that they were being protected.

Now the site is doing something about it, announcing a new policy that will allow its users to contact Reddit directly if they feel like that are being harassed. They can report the private message, post or comment and user by emailing, or modmailing, the company. 

It's hard not to see the influence of new CEO Ellen Pao in this action. The former partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers was appointed as the head of the company in November, following the strange resignation of Yishan Wong. 

Pao is more well know, of course, for her sexual harassment lawsuit against KPCB, which she lost earlier this year. Despite that setback, Pao is now a poster-child for diversity in technology, and anti-discrimination, and finally taking action against abusive Redditors will only endear her further in that cause.

"Running a community-based site is complicated; running a site with 9,000 active communities in a changing world is even more complicated. For the past six months we have been examining and reviewing reddit’s community policies and practices, collecting and analyzing data, defining our own goals, and making some hard decisions," the company wrote in a blog post.

"Instead of promoting free expression of ideas, we are seeing our open policies stifling free expression; people avoid participating for fear of their personal and family safety."

This comes a week after Reddit announced its internal company value, which included treating others with respect, respect the anonymity of others and allowing others to have their own power of expression.

This latest news takes it a step further, though, and actually involves Reddit in deciding if something that someone posts goes over the line. For a site founded on the ideals of free expression and openness, I imagine that this won't go down easy for some members of the site.

Reddit has taken some action previously to curb abuse, but rather than allowing users to report it they have simply shut down entire conversations. For example, in 2013, after a Navy Yard shooting in Washington left 13 dead, Reddit banned an entire subreddit that was devoted to finding any remaining Navy Yard shooters, due to the fear that it would turn into a witch hunt.

"This is a great first step for them - we've had similar policies in effect on Fark for years now and have been extremely happy with the results." Drew Curtis,  the founder of the alternative news site Fark.com and current candidate for Governor of Kentucky, told me.

"As for what else Reddit can do to curb the problem - I think that next step is going to be having to take a wait-and-see approach.  I'm hopeful that this works on Reddit and that Twitter takes up this issue in short order."

Harassment on the Internet

Reddit is, of course, not alone in being a haven for people who want to vent their frustrations against the world, and other people who happen to get into their way.

Twitter has had a major issue with this, and continues to now (just look at what happened to Joss Whedon recently, just because some people had issues with a stupid movie they paid $12 for).

In 2013, the company responded to the calls from the British people to crack down on verbal abuse on the network after Caroline Criado-Perez, a freelance journalist, was barraged with a series of rape threats following her successful campaign to get Jane Austen's face onto the 10 pound note.

In response Twitter expanded abuse reportingbegan working with the UK Safer Internet Centre and updated its rule on acceptable behavior.

Anonymous apps have been under even more scrutiny on this front, since they allow people to say whatever they want without any fear of repercussions. 

Even as Secret was launching, David Byttow, Secret's founder and CEO, was already being questioned about this, and he insisted even then that Secret would take abuse seriously and would remove such content. 

In August he wrote a blog post outlining what was, and was not allowed, on Secret, and asked the community to police itself. 

The reputation that Secret obtained as being unsafe for its members might have been one of the reasons that the app was ultimately forced to shut down after less than a year. 

Another anonymous app, Yik Yak, has also been accused of helping to promote cyber bullying, as well. In response to incidents of bullying and threats, that app has been age restricted to only those over 18.

Cyber bullying has become a bigger problem in recent years, and it really does seem like those who refuse to take steps to do something about it will eventually be left behind,

(Image source: resources.uknowkids.com)


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