By Rishi Iyengar, CNN Business
After days of controversy over its decision not to crack down on misinformation about Covid-19, Reddit is somewhat backtracking, taking action against dozens of its groups known as “subreddits.”
The social media site on Wednesday banned one prominent subreddit called r/NoNewNormal, which described itself as hosting a “[skeptical] discussion of the ‘new normal’ that has manifested as an outcome of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic” and has been flagged by several prominent subreddits as a significant source of Covid-19 and vaccine misinformation.
According to a post by Reddit’s security team, however, r/NoNewNormal was banned not specifically for sharing misinformation but for breaking the platform’s rules against “brigading,” a practice that refers to “targeted interference” or harassment of other communities.
“We found very clear signals indicating that r/NoNewNormal was the source of around 80 brigades in the last 30 days (largely directed at communities with more mainstream views on COVID or location-based communities that have been discussing COVID restrictions),” the post said.
And while r/NoNewNormal was the only subreddit banned outright, Reddit also said it had placed 54 other subreddits under “quarantine” — a term the platform uses for communities it places behind a warning and removes from search and recommendations. The most common reason for communities to be quarantined, according to Reddit’s page on the policy, is if they host “highly offensive or upsetting” content or are “dedicated to promoting hoaxes … that warrant additional scrutiny.”
Wednesday’s action comes a week after Reddit co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman rebuffed calls from a pro-vaccine group called r/vaxxhappened to do more to clamp down on Covid-19 misinformation. In a post on the site’s announcements page last Wednesday, Huffman used a well-worn argument by Silicon Valley social networks: that Reddit is simply a forum for “open and authentic discussion and debate.”
“Given the rapid state of change, we believe it is best to enable communities to engage in debate and dissent, and for us to link to the CDC wherever appropriate,” Huffman wrote, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “While we believe the CDC is the best and most up to date source of information regarding COVID-19, disagreeing with them is not against our policies,” he added.
Reddit is by no means alone when it comes enabling the spread of misinformation, propaganda and hate speech, though its approach to content moderation — relying mostly on volunteers within individual communities — is far more decentralized than Twitter or Facebook. Both those platforms have sought to be more proactive in fighting Covid misinformation, with Facebook recently banning the so-called “disinformation dozen” accounts after pressure from the White House. Twitter has suspended accounts such as that of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for sharing misinformation about the virus and has made it easier for users to report tweets they think are false. But both platforms continue to face criticism for not going far enough to combat misinformation.
Although Reddit has made greater efforts to curb hate speech and rein in trolls, the pro-vaccine moderators said the site hasn’t done enough to stop Covid lies from spreading through “sheer volume of repetition.”
In its post on Wednesday, Reddit’s security team shared an analysis of Covid-related content posted on the site since January 2020, which found “a sizable increase” since July this year as the Delta variant spread across the United States. The amount of Covid-related content reported to Reddit by users also quintupled in the past month compared to a year ago.
“We can infer that there has been an increase in COVID denial content on the platform, and that increase has been more pronounced since July,” the team said, adding that it is investigating other subreddits beyond r/NoNewNormal.
“We never claim to be perfect at these things but our goal is to constantly evolve,” it added.
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