A row has been breaking out over at the social news site Reddit in recent weeks over just how to respond to legal yet distasteful content. If you’re not familiar with the story, it started when a section of Reddit was created with the aim of sharing photos taken of women without their knowledge. The photos were not indecent in the sense that there was no nudity on display, yet the whole situation was undeniably seedy.
Thus an argument developed, with one side arguing that such things have no place on the site and should therefore be removed, whilst the other side suggested freedom of speech should be upheld, and so long as the content was not illegal then it should be up to users to effectively self-police what they see.
The official Reddit response has been somewhat ambiguous. They have removed the areas at the point of the discussion, called Jailbait and Creepshots respectively (no prizes for guessing the kind of content shared in each), but have made it clear that they stand for free speech and will not ban distasteful subreddits.
So how should you respond to posting distasteful content on your community?
For me it comes down to the kind of culture you want to create. The law provides an obvious baseline that should never be crossed, but for most communities your culture will be some way above that. It will determine the kind of things you want to be shared on your community and it’s tone of voice.
Flame wars for instance are not illegal, but they aren’t something that community managers will want to condone on their sites either. Ditto things like regularly going off topic. I mean think about it, and think about it right from the beginning, before you’ve even created your community.
If you’ve done things the right way then you’ll have defined a purpose for your community. This will be what you want your community to achieve. You’ll also then have defined a how for your community, which will focus on how you forsee this being done.
In Reddit’s case, their aim is to be the ‘frontpage of the Internet’, providing readers with breaking news as it happens around the web. That’s a noble aim, but it’s hard to see how posting lewd photos of women (of whatever age) is in keeping with that aim. So by all means Reddit should maintain their libertarian ideals around free speech, but they will do well to remember that their purpose is to surface news articles, not smut.