On January 8th, 2021, Twitter banned a sitting US president, Donald Trump, from its platform, sparking a conversation about free speech and censorship on social media platforms.
Reddit is not new to this conversation. In 2012, Reddit took down multiple subreddits when a moderator’s identity ‘got out’. In 2015, Reddit was banning subreddits (communities) on a country-by-country basis. In 2020, the website banned over 2000 subreddits including a pro-Trump group called r/TheDonald.
Several Reddit communities/subreddits are accused of blatant censorship by Reddit users. This includes global and national subreddits such as r/worldnews, r/Politics, r/India, r/PoliticalHumor and r/unpopularopinion. Subreddits such as r/WatchRedditDie, r/DeclineIntoCensorship and r/Banned generally keep a track of such heavily censored subreddits.
The website has landed itself once again in a controversy about the lack of free speech on privately owned social media companies. Reddit had apparently hired former Green spokesperson Aimee Knight (formerly Aimee Challenor).
Aimee, a trans activist, was a prominent member of the Green party, and chair of their national LGBTQI wing, and had at one time stood as a candidate to be the deputy leader of the party.
Aimee’s father had been charged with 22 severe and extreme sexual offences against a child. These offences occurred in the family home and included rape of a child, assault of a child with electric shocks and the creation of indecent photographs of a child.
Subsequently, and while the father was out on bail pending trial, Aimee hired him to work on their electoral political campaign as their Election Agent and to do other campaign work.
Green Party also commissioned an independent investigation and found that Aimee had informally reported the charges to a friend in the party, but crucially had failed to mention the father’s own involvement in the party as a member – nor his involvement in the activist’s campaign which was ongoing – and found the job the activist had given the father may have put him in contact with children and other vulnerable people.
Particularly troubling, the report found, was that in addition to the election agent job, Aimee had engaged their father as a photographer, which, given the nature of some of the charges against him and that a political campaign interacts with children and vulnerable people as a matter of course, caused much alarm.
After the investigation concluded and the report was published, the party expelled Aimee, their father and their mother. This was widely covered by the press here in the UK at the time. The father was later convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
A while later, the activist’s partner allegedly publicly admitted to writing erotic literature involving forcible sexual acts with a child, – though Aimee and their partner claim that this admission was written by a hacker – leading to the activist being expelled from a second major political party, and to the activist resigning from a very prominent LGBTQ campaigning organisation and moving to the US, where their partner comes from.
Recently, Reddit hired Aimee as an Admin, and they have been permabanning and taking down posts and comments that mention the two previous incidents in connection with the new Admin’s name, as well as linking to the article by the magazine and the blog post by the screenwriter, and numerous articles by the press about the criminal case and the investigation.
Aimee, through her Reddit account u/isnottheimposter, banned one of the moderators of r/UKPolitics for linking an article that mentioned her. This triggered other moderators to close the subreddit for a while and investigate the issue.
Reddit has come out in defence of Aimee, alleging its own users to have ‘targetted harassment and sharing of confidential information’ against Aimee, and has therefore started banning anyone who even names Aimee as part of a comment, post or message. A move that is heavily being criticized by Reddit users across the website.
Also, to hold Reddit accountable for its actions, hundreds of community moderators have taken their subreddits ‘private’ – making these subreddits unavailable for public access.
The series of events raises many questions on Reddit. Why do admins get to use their power for self-benefit? What about Reddit’s hiring policies, when even a cursory internet search raises serious issues, and about their ongoing efforts to simply erase mentions of the issue rather than to engage the communities affected?