Allows racism!

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.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Note how, in the first excerpt, the Telegraph segue’s from racism and hate speech to the “far-right.” This is the same worldview as the Facebook/Twitter axis; if you argue that Israel has excessive influence in Congress, you are an “anti-Semite”; if you oppose the Obama initiatives then you hate everyone of his skin color.

    When social-media executives see the “far-right” as the problem, then countermeasures claiming to key off the manner of speaking actually target the belief expressed. That is why wisecracking black conservative housewives Diamond & Silk are a “danger to the community” at Facebook, whereas jihad, beheading the President, and a Civil War to eradicate the Republican Party, remain welcome. This is not just about civility of discourse.

  2. What’s the definition of racism nowadays? You can’t even start to consider controlling it if you don’t know that. And as the item says, you can’t let someone control that definition on a per-case basis.

  3. “This even before we consider reality here, Reddit is Steve Hoffman’s site to manage, his gaff his rules therefore.”

    This bears repeating. Facebook is the normie culture. It’s the Harvester or Beefeater. You don’t go in there with a bunch of pissed up rugby players. You go and find the dive bar or strip club.

    And the internet has these places. I’d describe Reddit as being what Newsgroups used to be, only with better management. There’s a whole lot of “red pill”/Last Psychiatrist/Sargon of Akkad stuff on Reddit.

  4. As someone said about free speech cases in Canada where they are trying to ban offensive number plates that as a society we can have the right of free speech or the right not to be offended, can’t have both

    In the number/license plate case one was someone whose name was Grabher and after the leaked Trump comments on grabbing someone complained that his personalised plate was offensive, in another case a plate with Assimil8 or similar (that had a Star Trek/Borg plate holder to add context) was offensive to First Nations because of assimilation policies in the past.

    • The license plate case is not a pure example because utterances there may seem to carry the endorsement of the government. But apart from First Nations, imagine the insult to the jihadis that Canada admits so freely, if a fellow Canadian tells them to Assimil8.

      The New Hampshire legislature this week is hand-wringing about a proposal to issue license plates with the New England Patriots logo, proceeds from advertising this out-of-state football club on state license plates to go toward in-state charities designated by the club. Legislators are holding up the bill until they receive assurances they will not look like fools.

  5. The critics are trying to claim that Reddit is television, whereas Reddit are saying they are the Royal Mail. Which is, in my view, the correct view. Television is an institution pushing its output, whether Fox News or BBC 24, is a purely user-consumption media. Reddit is people talking amongst themselves, the 21st century version of Jane Eyre’s letter circles. Lefties would be up in arms* if the Post Office steamed open people’s letters and then banned people with bad-think from using the post, but this is what they are demanding.

    *Actually, rethinking that, I rather think a goodly proportion of them would demand that. Read the wrong newspapers? Vote the wrong way? That’s your letterbox nailed shut and your hands cut off. Dammit, they can still use the media of voice, sew their mouths shut! Dammit, they can still think!!11!!!

    • I heard one of the Senators or Reps put Zuckerberg in a pickle. Is Facebook a site of editorial advocacy, or merely a medium? Zuckerberg has a right to his views, against government reprisal, but in that case cannot claim no liability at all for what his users say, that he is merely the Royal Mail. I heard Mark hem and haw but don’t know which side he came down on.

      Note Tim’s article about the recent law (which Trump has now signed) removing from blog hosts their “safe harbor,” should their users post seeking to abuse children. ConTel is clearly a home for Tim’s opinion, and that of his invitees, but by implication he too suddenly has a duty to patrol this space where we scribble and not allow us to do “human trafficking.” (And what next?)

      It seems like the looking-glass world of licensing, where we have the right to privacy, and lots of other rights too, but not the latter unless we give away the former.