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Can Reddit become a business without losing its soul?

Stashed in: User Generated Content, Reddit!, Awesome, Reddit, Secret!, Ellen Pao, @alexisohanian

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Reddit is trying to do that delicate balancing act between trying to become more mainstream -- and especially less horrifying to women -- while also appeasing their current communities. Super interesting thought process on how to accomplish these goals, hope they succeed and become an example for all (*cough*Twitter*cough*).

This seems like a step in the right direction:

On Thursday, the company’s executive team—including co-founder and chairman, Alexis Ohanian, CEO Ellen Pao and Jessica Moreno, the site’s head of community—announced that they are taking a firm stand against the harassment and negative behavior that often occurs on the site, especially involving women. In a blog post, they said that while the company values “privacy, freedom of expression and open discussion,” a recent survey of users shows that the bad behavior by a few is driving people away: the number one reason existing users don’t recommend the site to friends is they want to avoid exposing them to hate and offensive content.

“We’ve always encouraged freedom of expression by having a mostly hands-off approach to content shared on our site, [but] 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.”

I did not realize Alexis Ohanian invested in Secret. 

because of its commitment to free speech and in particular the value of anonymity—something Ohanian has spoken about a number of times. Last year, he talked about why he invested in Secret, one of a number of anonymous apps, saying: “Like all tools, this new publishing technology comes down to how we as individuals use it, but I’m heartened by every post I see that allows someone to share something about themselves that they’d never have been able to with their name attached… anonymity enables us to be truly honest, creative, and open.”

Ohanian and others at Reddit have also talked about how only a small number of users engage in the kind of harassment and bad behavior they want to squash—the blog post says the new rules “will have no immediately noticeable impact on more than 99.99% of our users.” But how can the site find and remove or block these bad actors if the vast majority of Reddit accounts are anonymous? And how is it going to define harassment or bad behavior so that it protects users but doesn’t impact free speech? In their post, the executive team say they will define 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.

Policing the community is a lot harder in practice than in theory.

They also say that they want to “prevent attacks against people, not ideas.” In other words, they want to exclude ad hominem attacks that are aimed at individuals, and subject them to threats or other harassing behavior, but they don’t want to stop people from challenging or attacking ideas. This is a noble statement of purpose, but it’s a lot harder to do than it is to say, as a number of Reddit users have pointed out. How does the site define what constitutes torment, or conclude that something is demeaning? Do the users in question determine that, or do Reddit administrators?

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