Freedom of speech in the age of the internet – Reddit

Alex Hughes explores the risk of censorship on Reddit.

The internet is openly hailed for its acceptance of freedom of speech, it allows for people from all over the world to have a platform to voice their opinion on absolutely anything.

Some people find this freedom to say anything exhilarating. There has never before been a platform so powerful for people to be heard. However, to many others this freedom is terrifying; it has no limits or sanctions to keep it in place. Hate speech, propaganda and verbal violence generate fear of the internet’s lack of limits.

These two battling ideas have raised one of the most prevalent questions when considering the internet, should we filter content or allow for complete freedom of speech?

When considering free speech on the internet one of the most often referenced sites is Reddit. The forum based site embraces free speech in every way, or at least it did until recently. Reddit is going through somewhat of an identity crisis, should it filter its content or keep the floodgates open? When the website started it would work hard to ban anything racist, sexist or homophobic but as it’s got bigger this has become far too difficult. How do you monitor over 234 million monthly users and their actions?

Reddit is about as unfiltered as a popular social media could get, it is littered with controversial forums including ones supporting extremist religions, bashing feminism and pushing racist regimes. But does this mean it should be monitored? Most people on the site heavily oppose the idea of censorship believing Reddit to be a beacon for free speech and opinions, some users even stating that free speech should have no limits.

With this idea in mind, Reddit’s CEO Steve Huffman’s decision to close a subreddit was greeted with mixed reactions, some supporting the company’s decision and others bashing the decision for restricting free speech. In an AMA (ask me anything) on the site, Steve stated that ‘While we didn’t create Reddit to be a bastion of free speech, the concept is important to us. /r/creepshots forced us to confront these issues in a way we hadn’t done before’. (Creep shots was a subreddit taking photographs of un-expecting people).

Along with this statement, the AMA also addressed company rules on what would be banned and what would be allowed, stating that unpopular opinions were not a reason to be banned but inciting violence and hatred would be.

In a time where free speech both online and in the real world are constantly under critique, the world of Reddit is seen as a safe place to voice opinions that may not be welcome elsewhere especially as Facebook and Twitter clamp down on explicit content. However, this just opens up the conversation of what speech should be allowed and which shouldn’t even further.

Steve Huffman’s AMA demonstrates the closest Reddit has come to finding a balance between free speech and acceptable guidelines. The decision to ban inappropriate subreddits and people inciting hatred was an important decision especially through his outlined criteria on what would be considered inappropriate and what would be okay. However, the website still has a long way to go with a large portion of the frequent users feeling the website is slipping away from its roots.