[dropcap size=small]B[/dropcap]itcoin and Dogecoin were among the list of at least 20 words banned by the popular /r/technology subreddit. The scandal shook the Reddit sphere last week. Monday, Reddit punished the censorship by obscuring the community. They officially pulled the subreddit from the list of “default subreddits” awarded to popular sub-communities.
In response to the scandal, the moderators, issued an apology over the weekend:
As many of you are aware the moderators of this subreddit have failed you. The lack of transparency in our moderation resulted in a system where submissions from a wide variety of topics were automatically deleted by/u/AutoModerator. While the intent of this system was, to the extent of my knowledge, not malicious it ended up being a disaster. We messed up, and we are sorry.
They also detailed a couple of reforms. The AutoModerator’s configuration page would be modified to allow open access. They will post automatic removal criteria publicly. The two moderators “directly responsible” already stepped down.
But Redditors are not satisfied. MagnificentJake summed up the overall frustrated feeling, “I like how they shuffled all the blame onto the mods that left and insinuated that there is a ‘new’ mod team. That’s classy.” Some users pinned the turmoil on other moderators, demanding their removal. Suclearnub wrote, “I will unsubscribe to /r/technology until both /u/maxwellhill and /u/anutensil steps down.”
Last week, user creq identified a list of the keywords banned by /r/technology. Besides “Bitcoin,” and “Dogecoin,” “Snowden,” “net neutrality,” “anti-piracy,” “NSA,” and “SOPA,” were some of the other censored keywords. SamSlate graphed the popularity of the “NSA” keyword over time and pointed out a dramatic downward shift in use after August last year.
The Daily Dot publicized the incident last Monday. A volunteer moderator of /r/technology, agentlame, told TDD that rather than manually delete choice material, they use software to crawl the keywords and automatically pull material that matches controversial choice phrases plugged in by moderators.
Reddit is composed of over 6,500 subreddits. Users decide which material deserves attention through a upvoting, downvoting mechanism. The organization is famous for its dedication to an open Internet, famously championing the virtual, anti-SOPA/PIPA demonstrations in 2012. The notorious legislation would have given the government new powers to enforce copyright laws, but many viewed the legislation as an attempt to infringe on fundamental Internet freedoms. Reddit blacked out their website for a day, alongside Google, Wikipedia, and other tech heavyweights, to build awareness of these anti-freedom legal measures. Any sort of censorship runs counter to the company’s transparent reputation. But perhaps it is a contained anomaly.
But really, how far does the censorship go? Is /r/technology the only sub-community guilty of filtering keywords ? Are your favorite altcoins banned on other relevant corners of the sprawling Reddit tree? Well, if you’re wondering whether your subreddit of choice is deploying similar censorship tools, you can employ relatively easy sleuthing tactics. SamSlate, responsible for compiling the timelines of keyword use, came out with a censorship checker.