Reddit Faces Massive User Protest for Banning Criticism of Controversial Employee

Reddit Faces Massive User Protest for Banning Criticism of
Controversial Employee 1

Update 6:40 p.m.: Reddit CEO Steve Huffman announced that Aimee Challenor is no longer employed by the company, saying “we over-indexed on protection” and that Reddit had failed its own standards in this case.

Dozens of Reddit pages have gone private in protest over the social media company’s decision to censor criticism of an employee who hired her father, a child rapist, to run a political campaign

Major forums like r/music, r/fitness, and r/coronavirus, which each have millions of users, have closed, along with hundreds of smaller forums. They are protesting a Reddit decision to ban users who mention Aimee Challenor, a former British Green Party politician now working as an administrator for Reddit.

Challenor appointed her father as campaign manager during her unsuccessful run for Parliament in 2017, even though he had been charged with raping a 10-year-old girl. Her father has since been convicted and is serving a 22-year sentence.

The user-driven revolt against aggressive content moderation marks a new front in an already raging online battle over how much moderation social media platforms should conduct. But Reddit, unlike Facebook and Twitter, has traditionally avoided moderating all but the most egregious content.

Forums on Reddit, which bills itself as “the front page of the Internet,” are run by moderators, who come from the forum’s community and are volunteers. Reddit has generally been loath to moderate content on forums itself, relying on a forum’s moderators to set the tone and establish rules.

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Challenor moderated the major Reddit forum r/lgbt among others for several years. She had influence over Reddit’s approach to content moderation even before officially joining the company. In April 2020, Challenor wrote a public letter to Reddit that was cosigned by moderators from other boards, asking the company to crack down on trolls. Reddit responded that same day. Among the forums banned was a forum for trans people who had since detransitioned. Challenor is herself transgender.

In March 2021, Challenor announced on a private messaging channel she ran that she was joining Reddit as an administrator. Shortly afterward, Reddit users who posted a link to a Spectator story that mentioned Challenor’s Green Party involvement were blocked, and the popular forum r/UKpolitics was shuttered, although Reddit later restored the forum.

In response to the Spectator, Reddit suggested that the blocks were automated: “Earlier this month, a Reddit employee was the target of harassment and doxxing (sharing of personal or confidential information). Reddit activated standard processes to protect the employee from such harassment, including initiating an automated moderation rule to prevent personal information from being shared.”

Many of the now-private Reddit forums have posted statements decrying Reddit’s behavior. Moderators of the forum r/music said, “Music is joining many subreddits in condemning child abuse and censorship. Reddit has hired a known enabler & protector of a convicted child rapist & torturer. Mentions of their name are being removed, and the posters banned. We are private in protest of Reddit’s conduct; we demand actionable statements from the admins.”

R/music and other forums participating in the protest link to a document explaining the rationale and listing the forums involved. At the time of writing, the protesting forums appear to have over 60 million combined subscribers.

Other Reddit users have argued that Challenor should not be employed by Reddit at all, noting her close ties to individuals with disturbing backgrounds. Challenor’s husband Nathaniel Knight, who is also trans, has written at length about his sexual fantasies involving children.

The Reddit scandal echoes recent cases in which social media platforms exercised wide latitude to ban users for criticizing trans activists. In 2018, Twitter and blogging platform WordPress removed critical posts referring to Canadian trans activist Jessica Yaniv. Blogging platform WordPress stealth-edited posts from users referring to Yaniv’s old name.

Reddit did not return a request for comment.

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