Reddit's /r/technology demoted over scandal of secret censorship that blocked Internet freedom stories

Alan sez, "According to various media reports (e.g. BBC) the technology subreddit has scrubbed its moderator team after users discovered that the sub was holding a secret censorship list of banned words that included 'National Security Agency', 'GCHQ', 'Anonymous', 'anti-piracy', 'Bitcoin', 'Snowden', 'net neutrality', 'EU Court', 'startup' and 'Assange'.

On its face, this looks like a list of politicized terms, and blocking them looks like a highly political and partisan act -- for example, by blocking "net neutrality," then stories that are critical of network discrimination would be blocked, while straight news stories that overwhelmingly quoted corporate spokespeople using uncritical terms would make the front door.

More charitably, it may have been the act of overworked (and ultimately irresponsible) moderators to simply ban hot-button topics altogether.

Here's the Reddit post that outed /r/technology's moderators.

Once the news got publicized, the moderator team did a 'U turn' and removed the auto-deletion software, as well as booting the mods responsible for it in the first place.

Still, as the BBC story notes, the technology sub is no longer "featured", meaning it doesn't appear in the subreddits that are promoted to new users and appear on the front page.

Reddit downgrades technology community after censorship [BBC]

(Thanks, Alan!)

Notable Replies

  1. Sounds like a stupid idea, but having moderated web-based discussion in the past, I can at least understand where this stupid idea came from.

  2. Most butthurt comment

    [–]abc69 20 points 7 days ago
    bestof censors too, links from /r/mensrights can't be posted to that sub

  3. xzzy says:

    I wasn't aware any discussion happened on reddit. I thought it was just a curating service for imgur.

  4. Speaking as a moderator for one of the default subreddits, I see where rules like this come from. The defaults get tons of posts and comments every day, far too many for any individual to handle on their own. A few tools (specifically automoderator) have been made to programmatically handle posts that don't need human eyes to look at them. For example, in AskScience, we have a rule in Automoderator that flags posts without a question mark because one of our subreddit rules is that the question itself should be the title of the post. If your post doesn't have a question mark, you probably didn't put your question in the title line. Human moderators have the power to override these rules on a case-by-case basis, but if the rules are well thought out, this is fairly rare.

    Also, keep in mind that subreddits exist on the continuum between openness and curation, and what may seem like censorship might just be an attempt to manage the conversation. Blocking internet freedom stories in technology makes a lot of sense, because there was a long period of time where almost every single topic on /r/technology was about Snowden, the NSA, net neutrality, etc. Discussion of new technologies, new products, and industry happenings sort of disappeared. Moreover, the new articles were often blogspam (or the syndicated equivalent thereof), and the comment sections were rarely enlightening, with people making the same points over and over again. I've never moderated for /technology, but even as a reader who fully endorses internet freedom as an important cause, the subreddit became monstrously tedious.

    For what it's worth, AskScience also "censors" in the sense that we don't tolerate people coming in to push their pseudoscientific theories. If your question is "Why don't doctors realize that homeopathy really works?" or "Why don't modern physicists understand plasma cosmology?" then you're gonna get shot down. Of course, if someone wants an actual explanation for why those theories are wrong, that's another story entirely.

    We also censor in the sense that we kick out a lot of questions that are just poorly thought out, too easily answered with google, asked too often, or otherwise bad.

  5. You're making a strawman out of me, and attributing a more extreme opinion than I think is appropriate.I actually think that the NSA spying should be covered on /r/technology.

    In your first post you heavily implied that you agreed with the mods at /r/technology (that would mean banning those keywords). You even doubled-down and said that blocking internet freedom stories in technology made a lot of sense to you.

    Nowhere did you mention that the mods at r/technology were too overzealous nor mention any disagreement whatsoever with their banning of keywords, etc. - It's only now that you've explained that your position is perhaps slightly more evolved than that.

    The conversation wasn't advancing in a healthy way.

    In your opinion. Fortunately, many more disagreed with you, the poisonous mod situation has been corrected and healthy conversation and debate is now back at r/technology:

    That's a good thing.

    Voting systems aren't necessarily good at promoting this sort of variety, because people upvote the things they like, ...

    Please forgive me for taking that part of your sentence out of context, but I found it extremely telling. I think it shows that, once again, you'd be happier at a blog where you control the message and have lone, editorial powers.

    People up-voting things they like will of course result in some redundancy, but that's going to be a mild side-effect of a healthy, participatory system that isn't neutered by control freaks.

    That mild side-effect of perceived redundancy may get overblown for moderators who are at reddit nearly every day. Most average reddit users do not visit reddit every day, much less the same subreddit every single day. The job of a subreddit isn't to appeal to the moderators, nor the avid minority of users that perhaps suffer from Internet addiction.

    The posts will sort themselves out over time and the highest ranked ones will persevere for a while. The worst that happens is some users who aren't interested in net neutrality (a minority, by the way) will need to scroll down an inch or two on their devices (if that) to pass those topics.

    You're blowing the perceived negative effects wildly out of proportion.

    Within days of removing the filter, /r/technology has turned into a technology policy circle jerk.

    A circle jerk? Wow...

    I think redditors that actively use that hackneyed term to describe group dialog they don't agree with nor enjoy may need some time and space away from reddit.

    Seriously, look at the front page of /r/technology right now and count how many of them are the story that the FCC is backing fast lanes

    Yes, it's wonderful. It's reflecting the will of the people who are very interested in that topic right now. Why does it bother you so much?

    For the minority that's not interested in the FCC's draconian attack on the entire Internet right now, they can simply flick their fingers on their touchscreen or nudge the controls on their mouse to scroll past and ignore the FCC topics and look at others stories/posts.

    Though, looking over that list, there was probably too large of a gap between posts on the NSA, so the mods should have been more liberal with letting those stories out.

    Ya think? It's a little too late and the censorship damage was done and can't be reversed. Fortunately, those mods have now been neutered.

    Do you honestly think that having 6 of the top 20 posts being duplicates is a good thing?

    Except it's very disingenuous to call them duplicates. For the most part, they are different perspectives from different media sources as well.

    On the front page of technology right now in regards to Net Neutrality:

    • Polls that show info on a youth demographic in support of it. A healthy debate ensues within.

    • A post focuses on Obama's perceived hypocritical nature. Another healthy debate ensues within revolving around Obama, role of government, etc.

    • A focus on how net neutrality can affect our long term prosperity. More healthy debate surrounding that angle ensues within.

    • Another post on what to do about the attack and how to save Net Neutrality. Healthy debate and ideas ensue.

    Why is this bad again?

    You're giving far too little weight towards the damage mods create with overzealous censorship and far too much emphasis on your own personal tastes. If you were the moderator there right now the result would be the destruction of healthy, lively and varied debate because of your overzealous derision and incorrect perception of "duplicates".

    As someone who has been both a moderator and a user at popular Internet forums, I think it's a good idea for moderators to sometimes take a break and look at the bigger picture beyond their own minor, personal annoyances that develop when they have their nose into something all day, every day.

    Once again, if the mods and devs at reddit want to really provoke healthier conversations and debate, the focus should be on sockpuppets and brigading. That's the real problem at reddit. Not an overabundance of free speech.

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