Reddit bans “hate speech” but only against certain groups

June 30, 2020 • 10:45 am

As I’ve said before, I think one can make a reasonable case for designating certain crimes as “hate crimes”. For if groups like Jews, blacks, or gays are targeted repeatedly for their identity alone, then increasing the penalties for such crimes, if you can establish the reasons for the crime, will act as a deterrent beyond the normal deterrents of the law.

Hate speech, though, is a different matter, for it often falls under the First Amendment, and, even when it doesn’t it’s always a slippery concept. While it’s fairly easy to define a hate crime (you need a motive and a victim), hate speech is notoriously hard to pin down. I’ve written about this many times before, emphasizing that one person’s free speech—speech intended to provoke discussion—is another person’s hate speech. I’ll mention Steve Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos, Christina Hoff Sommers, Charles Murray, Louis Farrakhan, and others whose speech has been deemed not just hate speech, but speech that should be banned, and certainly not heard. While the courts can adjudicate hate crimes, who would you choose to adjudicate hate speech? (Hitchens was famous for asking that question.)

Well, Reddit has taken it upon itself to adjudicate the speech on its platform according to new guidelines given below (click on screenshot). I’ve put their guidelines below, indented. (Emphasis is mine.)

Rule 1: Remember the human. Reddit is a place for creating community and belonging, not for attacking marginalized or vulnerable groups of people. Everyone has a right to use Reddit free of harassment, bullying, and threats of violence. Communities and people that incite violence or that promote hate based on identity or vulnerability will be banned.

Marginalized or vulnerable groups include, but are not limited to, groups based on their actual and perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or disability. These include victims of a major violent event and their families.

While the rule on hate protects such groups, it does not protect all groups or all forms of identity. For example, the rule does not protect groups of people who are in the majority or who promote such attacks of hate.

Some examples of hateful activities that would violate the rule:

  • Subreddit community dedicated to mocking people with physical disabilities.
  • Post describing a racial minority as sub-human and inferior to the racial majority.
  • Comment arguing that rape of women should be acceptable and not a crime.
  • Meme declaring that it is sickening that people of color have the right to vote.

Additionally, when evaluating the activity of a community or an individual user, we consider both the context as well as the pattern of behavior.

Of course Reddit has the right to regulate speech on its site as it sees fit; it’s a private organization. The First Amendment doesn’t apply there, though I always think private organizations should adhere to the courts’ interpretations of the First Amendment as far as possible. What is troublesome here is that while groups are protected on the basis of “race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or disability”, these rules don’t apply if a group is “in the majority”. I’m not sure what that means, unless it refers specifically to white people or women (who outnumber men).

And if that’s what it means, does that mean that it’s okay to denigrate white people, like Louis Farrakhan does with his hateful diatribes against both whites and Jews? Is it okay to denigrate women because they comprise 50.8% of the U.S. population. (It needn’t be added that, of course, denigrating men will still be okay.) If Reddit is in Israel, is it okay to go after Jews?

My point here is that although Reddit can ban hate speech, why should there be exceptions about who can be hated without sanction based solely on their numerical predominance? Bigotry and hate are bigotry and hate, no matter who the target. Note that “posts describing a racial MAJORITY as sub-human and inferior to the racial MINORITY” would be fine under reddit’s rules. In fact, that’s just what Farrakhan does, but is that okay?

If you’re going to ban hatred of people for belonging to groups, it should apply to all groups, not just minorities.

Here’s Maajid Nawaz on his LBC show, who apparently shares similar views on the “inconsistent application” of social-media censorship. (Click on screenshot to hear his exercised but reasonable argument.):


h/t: Ben, Malgorzata

71 thoughts on “Reddit bans “hate speech” but only against certain groups

  1. This is a real conundrum (at least in the US). Obviously, Reddit and all the other social media companies are private, and so can set their own terms of use, and do not have to be balanced in what they allow on their platforms. They are so ubiquitous, though, that, if they decide to push one political agenda, it really stiffles a lot of viewpoints. This is particularly dangerous at this point in time because of the clear strategy of the progressive left to impeach and suppress any voices that even question their orthodoxy. Regardless of how abhorrent some opinions might be, democracy is predicated on allowing everyone to have their say. I don’t see a way to compel the social media companies to do that except to stop using them and stop advertising with them until they adopt a more liberal policy.

    1. I agree with your conundrum problem. There are private media platforms and outlets that are so ubiquitous that, IMO, they function as important (though not critical…yet…) “public marketplaces” for ideas. Twitter is today’s street corner, but where the streetcorner preacher was protected by the 1st amendment, Twitter users are not.

      Having said that, these corporations have no ‘public obligation’ to put themselves at risk of litigation just for the cause of free speech. Arguably, they have an ethical obligation to their shareholders not to do that.

      Perhaps what we need is a public-private collaboration, where the government agrees to indemnify a corporation for speech content-related suits, if that corporation is willing to host a ‘public forum’ for speech. I suspect, however, such a place would quickly become a slime-pit of the worst sort of speech.


      I think Reddit’s move will simply cause the banned groups to simply move to (or build) more hate-speech-tolerant platforms. Call it whack-a-mole or a race the censors can never win or use some other metaphor, this sort of action doesn’t reduce unwanted speech, it only moves it elsewhere.

      1. I think Reddit’s move will simply cause the banned groups to simply move to (or build) more hate-speech-tolerant platforms.

        Those platforms already exist. There are places on the internet where one can spew all the hate one wants to. What these big platforms (twitter, reddit) provide is exposure to large audiences. Some people seem to think that if a private company refuses to broadcast their voice they’re being “silenced”, and this is nonsensical self-victimization that’s so prevalent in modern conservatism.

        1. Yes, there are always other platforms people can go to. Just like if every top-500 university were to ban you because of your speech, you could always find another university to go to. But this would be a significant social problem and one I just don’t think should be placed on people due to them disagreeing with liberal notions of fairness, equality, respect, etc.

          I disagree with the notion that some opinions are harmful and thus must be prevented from being spoken. Want to prevent threats? I’m good with that. Harassment (i.e. repeated, unwanted, targeted comments)? Fine by me. Doxxing? Yep, ban people who do that, particularly in fora open to minors. But the four example bullets Jerry posted above are not any of these things, or at worst some of them are edge cases of harassment. They are emotionally hurtful, nasty opinions, but that’s it.

          1. I disagree with the notion that some opinions are harmful and thus must be prevented from being spoken.

            Strawman. Nothing is being prevented from being spoken.

        2. The problem is that Twitter is pretty much ubiquitous. Many media companies seem to work under the assumption that Twitter is the World’s communications medium. Twitter is an official channel of the current US administration.

          We are quickly getting to the point where a private company – or a small set of private companies control all the effective means of communications and then those companies will be able to dictate what we all read, listen to and watch.

          1. The problem is that Twitter is pretty much ubiquitous. Many media companies seem to work under the assumption that Twitter is the World’s communications medium.

            Incorrect. There isn’t a single large media company that considers Twitter the world’s communication medium. It’s just one channel among many (facebook, instagram, tiktok, email, etc.). Twitter is many people’s favorite megaphone, but it isn’t ubiquitous, and it isn’t mission critical for most of the world’s businesses and governments.

            1. For perspective, twitter has about 150 million daily users, while instagram has 500 million daily users. Tiktok has 400 million daily users just in China.

    2. They are so ubiquitous, though, that, if they decide to push one political agenda, it really stiffles a lot of viewpoints.

      Nonsense. Ubiquity doesn’t enable stifling. This is a self-victimizing attitude that’s so prevalent in modern conservatism: the idea that they’re somehow being violated if a private party doesn’t publish what they want it to publish.

      1. Well, if a company comes in, and removes a post because they don’t like it due to the political opinions expressed, I’d consider that a lot different than the NYT choosing not to publish my letter, or the a company say no X in the terms of service. It’s ubiquity combined with a certain attitude that makes the problem.

        1. Well, if a company comes in, and removes a post because they don’t like it due to the political opinions expressed, I’d consider that a lot different than the NYT choosing not to publish my letter, or the a company say no X in the terms of service.

          I see very little difference here. Each platform chooses what to publish. Why does the NYT get to decide what to publish on their platform but Twitter doesn’t get to decide what to publish on their platform?

          1. There actually is a difference when it comes to immunity from libel, etc. Internet share sites are currently not libel for the content they “allow to be published by the user,” as the conceit has it. Printed newspapers are.

            To the extent that Twitter decides what to allow and not allow, it is more responsible for the content, since it is then actively choosing what to publish. SO it gets complicated.

            1. To the extent that Twitter decides what to allow and not allow, it is more responsible for the content, since it is then actively choosing what to publish.

              Almost every party that publishes things is actively choosing what to publish. Internet based publishers might have more protections via Section 230, so in that sense they are less responsible for the content.

  2. … who would you choose to adjudicate hate speech? (Hitchens was famous for asking that question.)

    He was indeed. But I think the Roman poet Juvenal beat him to the punch on it by near to two millennia. (“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?“)

  3. I saw that Andrew Sullivan re-tweeted this in regards to Reddit’s new policy:

    “After reading this, there’s really no more succinct way to express this new policy than by stating that Reddit is now implicitly anti-white and anti-heterosexual: According to the final sentence in the rules, hate may be directed at whiteness and heterosexuality.”

  4. Do the guidelines at any point define the geographical scale or spacial boundaries by which we should define majority? Obviously, white people are not the global ethnic majority, nor are they the majority in most countries. Reddit is based in the United States, but its communities are global.

  5. They really haven’t thought through the exemptions. Not least, how are they defining “majority”? Is it acceptable to threaten or denigrate the black population of a city district where they form the majority? Or does it apply only at the nation state level, giving Trump’s base a “shithole countries” loophole? Do antisemites get a free pass if they slap “Israeli” in front of comments about Jews? I think Reddit needs to go back to the drawing board.

    1. Doh! Not for the first time I forgot to refresh the page before posting a comment, only to see the same point had already been made above – sorry!

      1. Doh? Can you tell me how to refresh the WEIT web page after you’ve made a comment but before posting it? If I simply refresh the post my comment disappears. I have to open WEIT in a separate tab in order to view new comments, then return to the original tab to post.

        1. On the rare occasions when I remember to refresh the page I quickly double-click on my comment and save it so that I can then paste it back in the new comment box.

          1. Also, I installed Typio Quick Access (aka Typio Form Recovery) on my Chrome browser, which saves my web entries. It may be specific to Chrome, I’m not sure.

            But I’m not as conscientious as jezgrove. Measure once, cut once, live with the result, that’s me.

  6. I’ve said this before but there is something unique about speech on the internet. We have never in the history of the human race been empowered to say whatever we want without any social consequences accruing.
    Before the internet, social media and online comment sections came along the majority of the human race had to suffer social stigma if they said appalling things. This is how speech is constrained in real life: you can say what you want, we still have free speech, but your reputation will suffer if you go around yelling death threats in people’s faces or telling them they’re scum. People like that are few and far between, because the majority of humans know there are social consequences for free speech in the real world.

    Online however, particularly with anonymous accounts, none of those constraints apply. No consequences accrue if I go on YouTube comments and write that I’m going to butcher your family. I can say whatever I like.

    This is why speech online is subtly but significantly different: it has none of the invisible social guardrails that constrain speech in the real world.

    I cannot mention race online in many popular fora or comment sections without fifteen caps locked comments screaming at me about ‘white genocide’, ‘BLM Nazis’ or ‘kikes paying you off’. Most of the time I avoid bringing these subjects up. I censor myself.

    I don’t know what the solution is. But anyone who considers free speech online and free speech offline to be interchangeable, synonymous, will miss something very important.

    1. … the majority of humans know there are social consequences for free speech in the real world.

      That’s the traditional difference between “free speech” and “free beer.”

    2. Yet there are online spaces like the now-defunct Slate Star Codex (fuck you, New York Times!) were people could discuss issues with an honesty they could never afford in the real world.

      The “civil” culture was very helpful to oppressive chieftains and warlords, aided superstition and has generally prevented most well-meaning humans from achieving their intellectual potential, lest they were willing to risk getting lynched.

    1. Yup. As per usual.

      Interestingly, garbage human PZ Meyers called him a “neo-con”, and was angry when the SPLC removed their garbage hit-piece nonsense on him.

      Tells you a lot about the dreg Meyers has become.

  7. Great news that Reddit is cleaning up its act. It might not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

  8. This kind of selectivity is BS, of course, but we’ve nonetheless a real conundrum on our hands, I think. I’m nothing if not a firm believer in the robust free speech fostered by the First Amendment, and I’ve a high tolerance for the rough & tumble of American public discourse.

    On the other hand, even I have a threshold for incivility beyond which such discourse is drained of all pleasure. And I know there are many others with worthwhile ideas to offer with a lower threshold than mine.

    I’m not sure how these public platforms such as Reddit can go about ensuring that free speech remains robust yet keep the whole thing from descending into what one might find written on bathroom walls and tenement halls.

    1. For each major sub-reddit you create a secondary posting area called the “Bathroom Wall.” You move uncivil posts there. Thus, the folks involved are able to continue their uncivil conversation if they want, while other folks don’t have to see it. It’s not even a matter of censoring by person, as the same person may write “I disagree with [liberal notion X] for reasons [ABC]” and that stays, while their later post “[liberal notion X] sucks you @$@#%@ @#$@5 @$#$@” gets moved to the bathroom wall.

      It’s a bit of work, but given that many sites already use nannybots, automating the process is at least theoretically possible.

      1. That’s brilliant. Of course it requires moderators, but so does everything. Everything except letting the main forum become the toilet, that is.

      2. Yeah, that potential solution occurred to me, too. Isn’t that essentially the way they handled these things on the old Panda’s Thumb bl*g?

        1. Yep I think so. Though IIRC didn’t they use it more like Jerry uses his “open discussion” threads? There weren’t a lot of ‘uncivil’ posters there, but there were a lot of tangential discussions that would get moved over.

  9. Nawaz is a great voice of reason. It’s sad that he should have to express the obvious inconsistencies in the media. He’s explanation for this egregious behavior – the media have been battered by the left, which I assume includes accusing anyone of racism if they so much as raise an eyebrow at misbehavior from black and brown. I find it very frustrating.

  10. They’ve also shut down r/GenderCritical and r/HBD, two topics that the woke don’t want discussed at all, however reasonably.

    1. Hearing that they’ve shut down something like r/GenderCritical (as just one example) really tells me that I’ve been right all along about the biggest risk here: classifying legitimate policy positions and arguments as “hate speech” so they can’t even be discussed. Questioning whether children should be given hormones for transitioning that could sterilize them for life or lead to other negative outcomes? Hate speech. Mentioning that gender dysphoria among adolescents usually goes away later in life? Hate speech. (Note: I don’t even agree with most of the things that were posted on that subreddit, but they did discuss many valid issues, like the two I just mentioned)

      I think the long-term plan on the far Left is to categorize anything that opposes their own positions as hate speech. It may take a little while to get there, but they’ve made a good start. And hell, if you’re part of their group, it’s not a bad plan. What better way to silence opposition than to make all of their opinions unspeakable and categorized as hate speech/harassment/racism/sexism, etc.? And once this goal is attained, anyone who expresses the wrong opinion in the few places left online where they’re allowed to do so can be doxxed and fired from their workplace for making their fellow workers “unsafe” or causing a “hostile work environment.”

  11. hmmmm… no one is forcing anyone to subject themselves to these offensive websites. I understand the other issues brought up here and agree with Saul up yonder – speech issues in the virtual world are different than in the meat world. But really, you have go there yourself to see the offensive material. One could live their entire lives and never once see any Reddit group (highly recommended). It’s like when people used to complain about the crap they saw on the TeeVee. Every one I’ve ever seen has an off switch.

    But, in the end, it’s their sandbox. They get to decide who plays in it.

    1. “But, in the end, it’s their sandbox. They get to decide who plays in it.”

      Every one of us commenting on WEIT should understand this bit perfectly well.

  12. I guess when there are frequent attacks against Protestant white men, they’ll be protected too. I’m keeping an ear to the ground to see if that happens.

  13. Platforms like Twitter, FaceBook and Reddit are strange. They are clearly private organizations but they are also monopolies for all practical purposes.

    When Twitter bans certain people, for all practical purposes, that person has lost the ability to publish his own view point in one of the most pervasive media styles. He can neither self publish a tweet nor go to an alternative. He has basically lost his right to free speech.

    I do not have an answer but it is a question to consider.

  14. “I do not have an answer but it is a question to consider.”

    One answer is that companies with dominant market share must abide by First Amendment neutrality. It’s entirely accepted that monopolies can be regulated for societal good.

    1. Internet forums that abide by First Amendment neutrality (e.g. 8chan) tend to devolve into hate filled cesspools. It doesn’t seem reasonable to me to force a private business to that fate when they become dominant.

      1. Yes and that’s why I have not seen a satisfying solution. Moderating is necessary for creating an enjoyable platform but it also deprives people of their speech on the only available platform.

          1. Without using Google, can you name a Twitter alternative? I could not.

            If you post on twitter, you can get millions of readers. How many will read a post on Gab or Nitter?

            And as Mike Anderson said “Gab has been widely described as a haven for extremists who have been banned from other social networks.”

        1. Perhaps a “comment graveyard” would be a solution. Show deleted posts in a segregated area, but do not allow anyone to comment on or respond to them. This would reveal bias of moderators and users could judge in advance whether their participation would be welcome.

  15. Interesting to note:

    There are more women than men in the US. That means that misogyny is perfectly acceptable on Reddit, right?

    1. PCC(E) did mention that above: “Is it okay to denigrate women because they comprise 50.8% of the U.S. population.” But presumably if I posted on Reddit questioning how women should be defined I’d possibly risk being labelled a TERF and blocked?

    2. I once asked a sociologist about the definition of “minority” based on a similar objection. He weaseled his way out by providing some definition that defined the term through “structural” power differences.
      The term could always be reinterpreted to suit his needs. A neat trick to preserve the intersectional oppression pyramid…

  16. It seems that the motives for hate crime get easily confused with verbal criticism not relating either to hatred or even a crime.

    We have just had a shadow minister sacked personally by the head of the Labour Party,because she forwarded a tweet by another person claiming that US police had been trained by Israeli security forces to use knee holds, a sofar unproven claim but it is admitted that US/Israel do exchange anti-terrorist and security methodologies.

    The reason for the sacking is because the tweet was considered to be antisemitic.

    Israel has been known to use kneeholds as a method of restraint for some time.

    This apparently cannot be discussed openly in a political context without accusations of using the trope of “blaming Israel/Jews for everything”.

    This has been stated as “showing a zero-tolerance of anti-semitism within the Labour Party”. To me, that seems to equate with zero critique of Israel.

    The use of knee holds by security forces, expecially in context of sectarian tension is a legitimate issue ANYWHERE and by ANYBODY. Half the world is up in flames over it.

    It seems equivalent to claiming that critical comentary over the killing of a black policeman in the U.S. is “anti-americanism” or “antiwhiteism”.

    1. For the uninitiated, the UK Labour Party is being officially investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission over past allegations of antiSemitism – and the Party’s apparent failure to deal with them – under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The newly elected leader, Keir Starmer, ran his campaign on a policy of restoring the trust of the Jewish community in the party. A member of his shadow cabinet retweeted a newspaper interview containing dubious claims about the origins of the Minneapolis police’s restraint tactics (the interviewee has since retracted and apologised for her remarks). Starmer unsurprisingly found this wasn’t helpful and sacked the shadow cabinet member. The whole thing is a mess. A BBC guide to the events and the situation leading up to it is here:

      1. @jezgrove
        My initial point was that hate crime gets confused with legally verbally expressed opinion.
        Tweeting someone else’s comment does not imply that you agree with it in every detail. Just that you think that it is worth passing on: as with the Guardian article you cite above.

        In a UK legal context a person can discuss or do anything that is not illegal. Antisemitism as descrimination within UK law, MUST involve some form of DAMAGE: threats, incitement to harm, actual physical harm to a person or property, unfair sacking.
        Antisemitism is not defined under UK law
        though the non-legally binding IHRA is “adopted” by various bodies and parties. As far a I know, it has never been used in court.

        The point here is that a person can commit a perfectly legal action (say expressing an opinion about Israel, true or false) which might be taken as anti-semitic according to the IHRA (even the IHRA does not come up to it in this case).

        The crime may be either civil (sacking someone due to ethnicity/religion, slander) or criminal (defacing gravestones, beating, robbery, murder, genocide).

        Beyond the action, it is not a hate crime UNLESS hatred is proven as motive.

        Antisemitism is not defined under UK law:
        Jews have been recognised as an ethno-religious group in some hearings.
        The UK laws concerning descrimination don’t specify any specific groups (that would be discrimination in itself).

        It would be very difficult to argue that the tweeting of another person’s opinion by Rebecca Long-Bailey, even if that other person is mistaken, constitutes ANY form of hate-crime. Even slander laws allow for the expression of an opinion even if not factually correct, and the action need to be malicious, ie causing ACTUAL harm.

        Israel is a nation state, not an ethnicity. All nations get flak.

        If it is not a crime then it is free-speech.

        Starmer had recently clashed with Long-Bailey (who is the shadow education minister) concerning Covid. She takes the position of caution in relation to child safety and opposes the opening up measures proposed by Starmer and the Government).
        She is also an ex-Corbyn supporter. There is now discussion of purging within the party (Blairites against Corbynites) (LabourTor/LabourTrot).

  17. I think it is a clever strategy, although I disagree with it.
    Once various social media sites become people’s primary means of mass and even personal communication, those with control over the sites have the ability to exert a great deal of control over the ability of one’s political opponents to be communicate.

    All you need to do is ban “hate speech”, then define it to fit your agenda.

    Of course if you do this sort of thing and do not succeed in crushing the opposition, you stand to suffer some consequences yourself.

  18. Their list of marginalized groups and minorities sounds very U.S.-centric. And I wonder how would speeches relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be treated.

  19. “the rule does not protect groups of people who are in the majority”…. wait, aren’t “POC” a (global) majority?

    Or has “majority” been redefined as “numbers + power,” or perhaps “not necessarily numbers + power”?

  20. Some reddit groups were supposedly banned because members repeatedly doxxed or attempted to or made remarks advocating violence. But those groups have been around there for a while, so why now?

    A group of feminists (ok, maybe not just feminists but also some right wing guys pretending to be, who knows) that had a group with some critiques of policies towards transgenders. This seems simply censorship of dissenting viewpoints. Esp considering they have a lot of other screwed up material that went untouched.

    Clearly, the new policy that the ‘majority’ is not protected in the same way as ‘minorities’ is incoherent, crazy, and even likely to foster more resentment and problems between people.

    I don’t envy anyone involved in trying to formulate policies for social media sites. After all, they are now battlefields where state actors are coming in to rile up problems and even violence in other countries. And lets face it- societies could end up being destroyed by misinfo and disinfo (say, people believing masks are harmful to wear in an epidemic bc of bs spread all around on those sites). Still, if we don’t preserve the ability of people to dissent, what’s the point of anything?

  21. Hate crimes were invented to avoid equal treatment before the law. In that respect, they are no different from hate speech.

    A chronic reminder of this fact are hate hoaxes. They usually follow the same script:

    * outrage (sometimes on an international scale) that a member of a protected group has been mistreated. This usually goes hand in hand with demands for new legislation or government-funded programs to right the wrong, in addition to donations to the victim.

    * the victim turns out to be the perpetrator. Now it gets interesting. Technically, he needs to be punished. The swastika or racist graffiti is supposed to be harmful to protected groups, after all.

    * the perpetrator escapes punishment for the crime that caused so much outrage, unlike a member of a non-protected group. Sometimes
    charges need to be filed if the hoax got too embarrassing, but authorities are reluctant to prosecute.

    * the incident is quickly forgotten, but the extensive measures taken to fight its alleged effects stay in place.

Leave a Reply