Technology

Reddit set to cull 'dark side' communities

Reddit
Image caption Reddit is one of the web's most visited sites

Reddit's new chief executive has confirmed he plans to take fresh action against parts of the site containing offensive and obscene content.

Steve Huffman said that he had not created the news comment platform "to be a bastion of free speech, but rather as a place where open and honest discussion can happen".

He promised to provide further details on Thursday.

One expert said the plan would probably enrage many of the site's users.

Last week, Reddit's previous chief executive, Ellen Pao, resigned after an online petition calling for her dismissal attracted more than 213,000 signatures.

The petition had accused Ms Pao of leading the site into a "new age of censorship" after five "subreddit communities" run by volunteers had been banned for failing to tackle the "harassment of individuals".

Image caption Ellen Pao has stepped down as Reddit's chief executive but will remain on its board until the end of the year

However, one of Reddit's other former chief executives - who no longer works for the company - has since suggested that Ms Pao was less minded to restrict users' activities than many of her critics had assumed.

"On at least two separate occasions, the board pressed [Ms Pao] to outright ban all the hate subreddits in a sweeping purge. She resisted," wrote Yishan Wong.

"She probably would have tolerated your existence so long as you didn't cause any problems. I know that her long-term strategies were to find ways to surface and publicise Reddit's good parts - allowing the bad parts to exist but keeping them out of the spotlight."

Reddit attracted more than 163 million visitors last month, according to its own figures, making it one of the net's most popular destinations.

Image caption Reddit's censorship policies are proving to be one of the site's most commented-on news stories

Alienation risk

Mr Huffman co-founded Reddit in 2005 and was announced as the site's new chief last week, following Ms Pao's resignation.

In a message posted to the site on Tuesday, he said his top priority was to develop a "comprehensive content policy" and tools to enforce it.

"The overwhelming majority of content on Reddit comes from wonderful, creative, funny, smart, and silly communities. That is what makes Reddit great," he wrote.

"There is also a dark side, communities whose purpose is reprehensible, and we don't have any obligation to support them. And we also believe that some communities currently on the platform should not be here at all.

"We as a community need to decide together what our values are. To that end, I'll be hosting an AMA [Ask Me Anything session] on Thursday."

More than 14,000 comments have been posted below the announcement by the site's users. Some support his action, others suggest it will destroy the community.

Several members said they now intended to switch to Voat - a rival site that promises to "not meddle and not censor content" unless it is illegal.

One analyst said it was inevitable that Mr Huffman's plans would antagonise many of Reddit's users, but added that was not necessarily a bad thing.

Image caption Some of Reddit's users are threatening to defect to a rival site, Voat

"When you try to formalise things that have emerged as an organic mess, there is absolutely a risk that you are going to lose a lot of the core of what you were and alienate a big bunch of users," said Mark Mulligan, from Midia Research.

"But Reddit has had a couple of years of incredibly strong growth in terms of profile and influence, and in many ways this is a good time to take this gamble, because it has momentum.

"If you have momentum, you can afford to lose a sub-segment of a generation of users because you can be confident of attracting a new generation and so can mould the company to better fit the owners' and management team's moral compasses."

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