Photo via Eva Blue/Flickr (CC-BY)
It's one small improvement to try and combat harassment on the platform that has many subreddits filled with racist, hateful, and violent posts and rhetoric. The company has been lambasted in the past for failing to deal with harassment, and the website's culture turns away many potential users as it tries to grow into a more mainstream social network.
In a March 2015 survey of almost 17,000 users, the company found that users' biggest problem with the site was "increasingly negative and unsafe community environment," and that half of people who wouldn't recommend Reddit to someone else "cited hateful or offensive content and community as the reason why."
A block function has existed on Reddit since 2011, but only for private messages. Now, people will be able to block—mute, really—users from interacting with them in public posts as well. However, it only lets you block accounts that have replied to you directly, meaning you can't block users you see harassing other people.
Harassers that reply to you in comments can be blocked via the "Block User" button that appears when you view the reply in your inbox. The user's profile will be blocked; you will be unable to view any of their comments, posts, and messages; and you won't be notified if they continue to message you. Additionally, the company will also block all comments in the comment chain after the person you blocked comments, so you won't see any replies to the user, either.
Admins will still see content from users they've blocked, and moderators will see blocked user activity if it's in a subreddit they moderate.
The block function is effectively like Twitter's mute functionality—people can still reply to you, see your posts, send you messages, and attempt to interact with you, but all that will be hidden from your view. However, on Twitter, you can mute and block any user, not just the ones who jump in your mentions. On Reddit, you'll just have to report them to the community team.
When asked whether it will be possible to block other accounts in the future, Chris Slowe, the engineer who worked on the block function, replied that it's something they're considering, but in the meantime you should just downvote harassers.
Another user similarly asked whether it will be possible to block any user, and Slowe replied:
In principle, yes, but I'm not really sure we want to go down that road. Contrary to some of the concerns in this thread, this is about targeted abuse and (shall we say) directed trolling rather than about encouraging the creation of an echo chamber.
The response on Reddit has been surprisingly positive, drastically different from the outrage that ensued when Reddit banned subreddits for inappropriate content. Perhaps it's because nothing happens to the harassers when they're blocked, and they can keep saying whatever they want whether there's anyone reading it or not.