There will be two reactions to this statement from the CEO of Reddit that open racism and slurs are just fine on the site. Not that he approves of them, he’s very much with what Voltaire actually didn’t say, that he disagrees with what is being said but will defend the right for it to be said. Which is one of those two reactions, if there is to be free speech then it does indeed include the ability to be objectionable, insulting and even a knuckle dragging mouth breather.
The other reaction is the more general one in today’s society, that that’s nasty and people shouldn’t be allowed to say it. A viewpoint that around here we think more reasonable for a kindergarten than a society of adults. But, you know, society is what everyone agrees upon, no?
Reddit’s chief executive has claimed hate speech is not against the rules of the social networking site despite controversies surrounding several far-right forums on the website.
Steve Huffman, who leads the website often called “the front page of the internet”, was responding to user questions about what content is acceptable on the site after Reddit banned close to 1,000 suspected Russian-troll accounts.
One user asked: “Is obvious open racism, including slurs, against Reddit’s rules or not?” Huffman responded: “It’s not.”
Again, yes, obviously people disagree. But I do think this is the right answer.
Hoffman’s controversial response explains why outwardly racist and high-profile communities have been allowed to operate on a site that has 542 million monthly visitors.
“Our approach to governance is that communities can set appropriate standards around language for themselves. Many communities have rules around speech that are more restrictive than our own, and we fully support those rules,” Hoffman said.
Reddit’s approach to offensive behaviour has evolved from a position of actively banning users for hate speech to one allowing it under the guise of free speech.
It’s not really the guise of anything, is it, it is free speech.
Reddit chief executive Steve Huffman has been accused of supporting racism in his commitment to free speech.
Well, no, to insist that people can say stuff is not to support what they say. I don’t support communism but I’m just delighted that communists are allowed to say stuff in the newspapers. Given today’s media the pages would be rather empty without them for a start. Equally, I’m not particularly interested in gay orgies but I entirely support the ability of those that do to partake of them.
To support free speech is to do just that, support free speech.
There’s also this other problem we have. If speech is to be limited as to what may be said then who gets to do the deciding?
The answer is, to my mind at least, to retreat to the same solution we had with those other forms of communication (the newspapers, radio channels, TV stations and so on). We have general rules based in the Common Law. No libel, no incitement to immediate violence, that sort of thing. After that, anything goes – and we assume, cross fingers and hope perhaps, that the truth wins out. Not particularly because this is the perfect way to do things nor is it without costs.
It does, though, solve the problem of who can we trust to do that editing of the national conversation for us. The answer to that being the depressing “no one”. As we cannot trust anyone to do that, we’d better not have anyone trying.
It doesn’t particularly matter whether you support free speech for the morality of it or the rather more depressing fact that we can’t trust anyone to censor it. The end answer still becomes – yup, people are allowed to be and say racist things. Even in public and on the internet. This even before we consider reality here, Reddit is Steve Hoffman’s site to manage, his gaff his rules therefore.