Every social network has a different personality, and Reddit has long been the leering uncle who occasionally gives you a pat on the back when you need it most and tells you where to buy weed. But Uncle Reddit is having a crisis of conscience. The site just introduced a new anti-harassment policy, following on the heels of announcing its “commitment to diversity” and a policy change that prohibited revenge porn.
We’re basically at the part in Uncle Buck where Uncle Buck almost continues with his ne’er-do-well lifestyle at the horse race, but gathers his druthers and decides to rescue his niece from de-virginization at the hands of some jag named Bug.
Uncle Reddit’s anti-harassment policy is never gonna save anyone’s proverbial innocence, because it’s a wishy-washy reaction to a PR problem more than an actual attempt to curb threats.
It’s good that there’s now a way to report abuse to a person who will assess whether a threat is worth removing. And it’s good to know that if the Redditor hurling threats is deemed problematic enough, they will be banned from the site. But Reddit has the same troll problem Twitter has: If someone gets banned, the site’s anonymous user system means the troll can just create a new account a few seconds later. People who are dealing with threats will have to report each individual account owned by a harasser. It’s just not a realistic solution.
Plus, none of Reddit’s recent attempts to be a friendlier, safer place actually do a damn thing to address the bloom of racist, sexist subreddits gaining prominence on the site. You can only report people who make ad hominem attacks, not people spewing noxious ideas.
Reddit is in a difficult situation. It can’t do anything substantial to limit the toxicity of some of its most popular forums without walking back on its commitment to free speech. It can’t effectively address its troll problem without employing moderators and/or putting limits on anonymity.
Giving people a forum to complain about attacks is a tiny piddle in the right direction, but it’s an ineffective tool for actually curbing abuse, and it will do nothing to steer the community direction away from its increasingly-visible bilious side.