Reddit bans five groups on its site for harassment

The website had warned in May that harassment would not be tolerated in posts

Reddit has removed five online communities, or subreddits, on its site, after they were found to break the website's rules against the harassment of individuals.

The online message board, which was known for its hands-off approach to posts and discussions on its site, said in May it had decided to change its practices to prohibit attacks and harassment of individuals through the site.

Reddit defined harassment as systematic or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person conclude that it is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation, or fear for their safety or of those around them.

The change would not have an immediate noticeable effect on more than 99.99 percent of the site's users, it said.

On Wednesday, Reddit said it had banned the five subreddits, adding that the only one of those that had more than 5,000 subscribers was called "Fat People Hate." A link to this community said that the subreddit had been banned for violating Reddit rules.

The site wants as little involvement as possible in managing users' interactions, but will ban subreddits that are allowed by their communities to be used as a platform to harass individuals, if the moderators don't take action, interim chief executive Ellen Pao and two other site officials wrote in a blog post. "We're banning behavior, not ideas," according to the post.

Some Reddit users were, however, critical of the bans, with one predicting that it wouldn't go down well. "I can't say I liked any of the 5 banned subs, but seems like freedom of expression shouldn't be banned," wrote another user. When the administrators' attention was pointed to other subreddits that were also offensive but not banned, the site claimed that the other reddits being referred to "might be hateful or distasteful, but were not actively engaging in organized harassment of individuals."

Reddit has been progressively tightening on content posted to its sites. Earlier this year, it changed its privacy policy to prohibit posting of naked photos and sex videos, without the permission of the persons depicted. The move followed the posting of naked images of celebrities to the site, without their permission.

The changes at Reddit reflect growing concern about bullying, harassment and other crimes on the Internet, which has forced other social media companies to also change their policies. "You choose what to post. You choose what to read. You choose what kind of subreddit to create and what kind of rules you will enforce. We will try not to interfere....," Reddit's then CEO Yishan Wong had written in September last year, after the issue of the nude celebrity images, to emphasize that the site was unlikely to change its liberal content policies.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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John Ribeiro

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