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500 subreddits call on Reddit to combat COVID disinfo. But Reddit wants to let communities ‘debate and dissent’

'They’re showing support for dangerous conspiracies.'

 

Claire Goforth

Tech

Published Aug 26, 2021   Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:01 am CDT

On Wednesday, the VaxxHappened subreddit issued a public plea for Reddit to get rid of COVID-19 disinformation on the site. They claim that Reddit hasn’t fulfilled its promise to address this issue.

“It is clear that even after promising to tackle the problem of misinformation on this sitenothing of substance has been done aside from quarantining a medium sized subreddit, which barely reduces traffic and does little to stop misinformation,” the proclamation states. (Emphasis in original.) They also asked Reddit to ban subreddits that routinely share disinformation about the deadly virus.

“There can be no room for leniency when people are dying as a result of misinformation on this platform,” they wrote. “Reddit as a global platform needs to take responsibility here.” (Emphasis in original.)

As of this writing, nearly 500 subreddits have cosigned the call.

Reddit has pushed back against its assertion that it isn’t doing enough about pandemic misinformation. It also said that, while it agrees with getting vaccinated and adhering to the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it remains committed to letting the debate play out.

“When it comes to COVID-19 specifically, what we know and what are the current best practices from authoritative sources, like the CDC, evolve continuously with new learnings,” Reddit Chief Executive Officer Steve Huffman wrote on Wednesday. “Given the rapid state of change, we believe it is best to enable communities to engage in debate and dissent, and for us to link to the CDC wherever appropriate.”

“While we believe the CDC is the best and most up to date source of information regarding COVID-19, disagreeing with them is not against our policies.”

Huffman, who goes by the username spez, concluded with something of a warning for both those trying to get subreddits that share disinformation banned and those sharing false information.

“…[M]anipulating or cheating Reddit to amplify any particular viewpoint is against our policies, and we will continue to action communities that do so or that violate any of our other rules, including those dedicated to fraud (e.g. fake vaccine cards) or encouraging harm (e.g. consuming bleach); and we will continue to use our quarantine tool to link to authoritative sources and warn people they may encounter unsound advice.”

Disinformation about COVID’s severity, treatments, and vaccines has been a consistent issue across social media since the beginning of the pandemic.

Nearly 100 subreddits have thus far shared Huffman’s response. Most are displeased.

On the organizer’s Discord server, one told the Daily Dot, “It’s awful. They’re showing support for dangerous conspiracies and pretending it’s us not showing compassion for people with different view points.”

A commenter on the Nursing subreddit said, “Admin doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of people denying Corona is harmful encouraging people to avoid vaccines.”

“All while the hospital personnel works their ass off, brink of burnout. But I bet they have a nice ping pong table at reddit HQ to take their minds off the hard admin work.”

While many were frustrated by what they view as Reddit doubling down on its laissez-faire policy, some celebrated.

“Dear SJWs who wanted to take conspiracy down: you got smacked by Spez hahahaha,” a user posted in the Conspiracy subreddit. (Conspiracy is one of the subs accused of circulating false information about COVID.) The same user later called on Huffman to ban and remove SJW (social justice warrior) moderators.

Meanwhile, posts continue circulating promoting potentially dangerous at-home treatments for COVID, such as the anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin. There’s a subreddit with nearly 10,000 dedicated to Ivermectin. It contains dozens of comments such as the one below by a redditor claiming to have been taking daily doses of the drug in a quantity meant for a horse, which the Food & Drug Administration warns is extremely dangerous, even potentially deadly.

A crowdsourced effort to do what organizers say Reddit will not—fight dangerous disinformation—is now underway. The Ivermectin subreddit and others believed to be spreading lies about COVID have recently been flooded with people mocking and correcting them.

“Reddit is giving a space for these dangerous ideas, if the ideas were truly quarantined that would be one thing, except they’re not, they leak out from those misinformation communities and affect every other part of Reddit,” wrote one of the Ontario subreddit’s moderators.

Update 2:14pm CT, Aug. 26: “Reddit is a place for open and authentic discussion and debate. This includes conversations that question or disagree with popular consensus. We provide users with authoritative resources when viewing communities that may warrant additional scrutiny, and continue to action content and users that violate our policies,” a Reddit spokesperson told the Daily Dot via email. “Throughout the pandemic, we have also provided COVID-related resources to support our volunteer moderators, users, and communities, including a dedicated AMA series connecting users with authoritative experts on coronavirus and vaccines, as well as deploying homepage and search page banners directing users to the CDC and r/Coronavirus.”

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*First Published: Aug 26, 2021, 11:44 am CDT