an experiment that actually curbed hate speech on the internet

Es­ti­mated reading time is 3 min­utes.

I HATE BULLIES and I see internet trolls as bul­lies. So I hate in­ternet trolls. But aside from Face­book, where I can keep them curbed by ex­cluding them from my com­ment thread, I have little in­ter­ac­tion on so­cial media plat­forms on the in­ternet. Con­se­quently, I have little in­ter­ac­tion with bul­lies and trolls on the internet.

Oh, I see them when I’m out and about reading ar­ti­cles and es­says on other sites—whether news sites or opinion sites. I oc­ca­sion­ally in­teract by leaving a com­ment that I hope is read as being full of with­er­ingly dry irony. But I do know use those other so­cial plat­forms, so I have not had to face the ugliest trolls in the world. 1

While I have picked up some knowl­edge along the way, I am un­fa­miliar with Reddit—except by rep­u­ta­tion. It seems it’s a fa­vorite haunt of par­tic­u­larly nasty, right-winged trolls. (I know: Is there any other kind of troll?)

For someone of my dis­po­si­tion to ven­ture into Red­dit­land would be like willing my­self into a life­time of ex­changing hos­til­i­ties with crit­ters who seem to grow bigger as they ab­sorb the hos­til­i­ties sur­rounding them. So, I stay far from that re­gion’s borders.


Curbed: An engraving shows an Internet troll waiting to give his confession to a Catholic priest.

I found this great image ac­com­pa­nying “Con­fes­sions of a Former In­ternet Troll” by Matthew Sac­caro. I had in­tended to use it as this ar­ti­cle’s header image until I found Troll Hunter.

An experiment curbed hate speech

I found this ar­ticle ti­tled “Reddit tried an ex­per­i­ment to curb hate speech” by Eric March for Up­Worthy (Sep­tember 12, 2017). The sub­title is “In 2015, Reddit de­cided to run some of the haters out of town.” Need­less to say, my cu­riosity was piqued. The fol­lowing four para­graphs are a trun­cated and edited ver­sion of March’s article:

In 2015, Reddit, known for its whole­sale em­brace of free de­bate, banned sev­eral of its most no­to­rious fo­rums, in­cluding a hub for white su­prema­cist jokes and pro­pa­ganda, and a board on which users heaped abuse on fat people.


In 2015, Reddit banned a forum for white su­prema­cist jokes and pro­pa­ganda and a forum which heaped abuse on fat people.


Critics wor­ried the ban would be in­ef­fec­tive. Wouldn’t the trolls just spew their hate else­where on the site? We now have ev­i­dence that the ban worked:

  Through the ban­ning of sub­red­dits which en­gaged in racism and fat-shaming, Reddit was able to re­duce the preva­lence of such be­havior on the site. 2

  Those who mi­grated to other sub­red­dits, be­came be­holden to ex­isting com­mu­nity norms that re­stricted their ability to speak hate freely. 3

March con­cludes his piece with what would seem to be common sense: “Any at­tempt to mod­erate an open web forum will in­evitably have to bal­ance pro­tecting free ex­pres­sion with the right of people to exist on the in­ternet without fear of abuse. For vul­ner­able people who, like most, are living in­creas­ingly on­line lives, it’s a small mea­sure of relief.”

Fi­nally, in case I forgot to men­tion it, I hate bul­lies.

Reddit banned fo­rums for white su­prema­cists and one that heaped abuse on fat people. Click To Tweet

InternetTrolls TrollHunter 1500

FEATURED IMAGE: This photo is from the 2010 Nor­we­gian movie Troll­jegeren (Troll Hunter or Troll­hunter). Mike Hale of The New York Times called it a “clever and en­gaging mock doc­u­men­tary,” but thought it too long. The spe­cial ef­fects were “cre­ated with a computer-graphics budget that we can as­sume was far short of the Hol­ly­wood stan­dard [but] are sur­pris­ingly life­like and frightening.”



1   I know, I know: there’s little room on the In­ternet for irony and Poe’s Law and all, but every now and then I talk (de­ceive?) my­self into be­lieving that even my arch-enemies are smart enough to get the pointed humor and the irony.

2   Sub­red­dits are sub­sidiary threads or cat­e­gories within Reddit that allow users to focus on a spe­cific in­terest or topic in posting con­tent that gets voted up or down by rel­e­vance and user preference.

3   Red­dit’s re­moval of copycat fo­rums be­fore they could reach crit­ical mass was also cited as effective.


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