It’s been a troll swamp, that’s for sure. Reddit was one of the ground zeros for trading stolen photos of naked celebrities in the Celebgate crime spree – just one of the cybercrime news blitzes that have found Reddit at their heart.
For some time, Reddit’s been taking baby steps to dilute the vitriol and make itself a more welcoming place, with less spam, trolling and harassment.
Last May, the company instituted a policy forbidding harassment on the site.
In the aftermath, Interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao was hounded out in the midst of death threats and comparisons to Adolf Hitler, with Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman stepping in to try to find some values for the crisis-hit community.
Now, Reddit’s taken another step toward warm and fuzzy by expanding a tool to block users.
Reddit co-founder Christopher Slowe on Wednesday explained in a post that Reddit has actually had a rudimentary block user feature for some time, though it was mostly used to block senders of private messages.
The new block user tool will also let you hide comment replies. The blocked users won’t be notified about being muted, so they’ll be less likely to play whack-a-mole by creating alternative accounts from which to continue the harassment, Slowe said.
Our changes to user blocking are intended to let you decide what your boundaries are, and to give you the option to choose what you want – or don’t want – to be exposed to.
Not everybody’s impressed.
Game developer Brianna Wu, who in 2014 was targeted in the #gamergate battle over comments she made about women in the video game industry, told the New York Times that Reddit’s just going for low-hanging fruit.
And even that is pretty late in the game, Wu said:
When you’re just now addressing the easiest solutions, it doesn’t speak well for what Reddit’s priorities are.
Reddit users are predictably riled. In a discussion on the site, one user, Donnadre, suggested that the block tool will be used to enforce group think:
Perfectly valid comments are downvoted to oblivion simply because they don’t match the groupthink of a given subreddit.
It’s fair to predict that “block user” will be widely misapplied in the same way.
The outcome then will be many subreddits where groupthink will dominate and discussion will be suppressed.
In an interview with the Times, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian acknowledged that there are growing pains with these types of shifts, but the good of the site outweighs the concerns of some users:
People, generally, do not like change. We have to do what is best for Reddit over all.
Reddit users are going to have to brace for yet more changes coming down the pike.
Slowe said in his post that this is just the beginning:
These are just our first steps toward improving the experience of using Reddit, and we’re looking forward to announcing many more.