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Reddit Announces New Feature To Tackle Online Harassment

This next story is a story of online abuse a note of warning: the topic we are about to explore may not be suitable for our young listeners.

Reddit — one of the most popular social news sites is also, one of the biggest playgrounds for trolls. Harassers and bullies can post with little consequence and their  targets haven’t been able to do much about it. Until now. Reddit announced last week a new feature to curb online harassment. It would allow one user to block another if they’re being bothered. Sounds simple, but as Isabella Kulkarni reports blocking users may not be enough to tackle harassment. (27)


Brianna Wu is a videogame developer at GiantSpaceKat a game studio in Boston.

[cut of video game tape]

That’s a scene from one of the games she worked on. And like in the game, she too is fighting bad guys —  Wu is constantly harassed. She made headlines several years back as one of the victims of Gamergate –  a social media harassment campaign of female gamers. She describes the day she opened a video message in her Reddit inbox

BW1: There was a man and he was wearing a mask and I couldn’t see his face and he held a drill and a knife upto the camera and he told me that his drill going into my skull would be the last thing I saw before he killed me 14:37 CUT THE UM

Wu said she contacted the FBI but the attacks continued. Reddit users turned on her and stream of insulting posts began.  

BW2 : 22:43 I’m enduring this double violation where my life is being threatened and yet I’m also having the mob on reddit telling me i deserve it 23:00

Wu said she blocked the private message, but as for the public ones, she was at mercy of her harassers. With Reddit’s new feature, she’s able to block all unwanted harassment on the platform. But will this really enough to stop the trolls? Stuart Geiger (guy-ger), who studies culture and technology at Berkeley, says no.

SG: This feature does not prevent people from creating new accounts that you and harassing you as well.

In other words, if you block a troll called Ruby she can reappear as a new user, Ryan. And there are more and more users on Reddit because, Geiger says, the site is growing. So he says, the new blocking feature —  is not just about limits on harassment it’s about appealing to the mainstream

SG: Part of a broader strategy by Reddit to mainstream itself to take it from something that has been and i think quite accurately been stereotyped as a particular subculture.

Back when Reddit began, users ran the site, volunteer moderators were in charge of flagging and blocking problematic content. But now, decisions about what content stays and goes is in the hands of upper level management. Employees decide what content to block– not just users. And some Reddit-ers are worried about limits to their expression.

SG: they may be right but what they’re taking away is something that for them is creative and free but for other people simultaneously is threatening and harmful and might have a chilling effect on what they might have to say.

MD1: People can say what they want behind a keyboard and that they are protected by anonymity.

That’s Maeve Duggan — she authored a Pew Institute study about online harassment — Here’s what she found: anonymous social media accounts like Reddit contributed to a lot of harassment. But she says there can be a positive side to anonymity for users too.

MD2: If they’re Connecting to people around controversial or sensitive topics anonymity can be seen as a real boon.

Jacob, is a Reddit user he says he appreciates anonymity. In his heyday as anonymous user he says he amassed an online entourage of hundreds. But he’s a troll. Which is why he doesn’t want to use his full name.

JACOB: I do think that there is an astounding amount of creativity once you

wade through the 15 pages of bad posts and I think there should be places like

that on the internet.

But even Jacob a troll, says Reddit’s block feature may not be enough. There needs to be more constraints on social media platforms. As for Wu, she says she doesn’t know how much longer she can survive the viral vitriol. For now, she’s waiting on action from the FBI. She’s still using Reddit, but with the block feature.

Isabella Kulkarni, Columbia Radio News


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