Reddit's new anti-harassment rules anger some users

They fear the changes will curtail free expression on the site, and questioned the company's motives

RedditPics pulls photos posted to Reddit and makes them easier to browse.

RedditPics pulls photos posted to Reddit and makes them easier to browse.

Upon learning of Reddit's plan to change its rules to prohibit harassment and make the site friendlier, some users reacted with resentment and confusion.

Reddit, known for the unconstrained nature of its discussions among people who post anonymously, said on Thursday that it will also now let users contact Reddit employees to report abusive posts. The changes were made to balance free expression with privacy and safety, and improve the quality and range of discourse on the site, according to the company.

But in a discussion thread on Reddit, some users called the changes vague because they didn't clarify what constituted harassment. Others said the changes would destroy free expression on the site, or characterized them as a ploy to attract advertisers.

"Posting meaningless feel-good drivel like this makes companies feel better about making ad buys," one user wrote, referring to Reddit's announcement.

Another said the changes show that Reddit's strategy of letting the community police itself hasn't worked. The changes, the user predicted, would spark an arbitrary crackdown on expression, speech and communities that admins on the site simply don't like.

Reddit defined harassment as continued actions to torment or demean someone, making any reasonable person feel Reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas, or fear for their own and others' safety. But some thread participants weren't satisfied with that definition.

In response, a Reddit staffer said in the thread that the site would pay attention to the context and form of harassment. "We care very much about not overreaching as much as helping those being harassed," the staffer said.

Still, others expressed concern over how Reddit would deal with harassment complaints, afraid that users might be banned from the site without justification. A spokeswoman for the site declined to clarify this point further.

The anti-harassment rules come less than three months after Reddit said it would ban revenge porn, or nude photos and videos posted without people's consent. When the iCloud accounts of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton were broken into last year, some of their nude photos were posted to Reddit.

Meanwhile, the "Gamergate" controversy, in which males targeted female critics of the video game industry, played out on Reddit, and other sites like 4chan and YouTube.

The changes, the spokeswoman said, are meant to address new types of harassment on the site. In a survey conducted by Reddit last month, the site found that the number one reason why users said they would not recommend the site to others was hateful and offensive content.

Reddit's philosophy underlying the changes is not altogether new. The site's previous rules of etiquette also banned rudeness, and encouraged people to be civil, suggesting that they ask themselves: "Would I say it to the person's face?"

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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