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Reddit has long struggled to walk the line between supporting free speech and banning communities that create a toxic environment and bring bad press, but this week brought a pretty clear-cut case. The latest unsavory subreddit to get the banhammer is r/NoMorals, a forum for sharing graphic images of death and gore.
NoMorals had apparently flown under the radar of Reddit admins, but it came to their attention in a big way Monday. Steve Huffman, the Reddit co-founder who now serves as CEO, posted a widely read response on Monday to reports of Russian propaganda on Reddit. In the comments, user UntestedShuttle asked Huffman, “what about images of dead babies … on r/NoMorals?”
“We are aware, and this community is under review,” Huffman quickly replied.
The next day, r/NoMorals was gone, along with its pictures and videos of dead children, injured or dead animals, and other disturbing sights. It had more than 18,000 subscribers.
The related, but more widely known subreddit r/PicsOfDeadKids was banned four months ago. Other similar communities, including r/AnimalGore, are “quarantined” due to “shocking content.” Quarantined subreddits are only visible to logged-in users who explicitly consent to visit them, and they don’t earn any ad revenue.
Some other disturbing subreddits that had been linked in the sidebar of r/NoMorals are still up and unrestricted: r/PicsOfAbortions is exactly what it sounds like. r/SexyAbortions was quarantined and then banned about a month ago, though.
The NoMorals banning follows Reddit’s longstanding pattern of leaving controversial communities alone unless there’s a public outcry against them. We’ve seen it before with nonconsensual “creepshots” of women in public, with “jailbait” photos of underage girls, and with harassment groups like “Fat People Hate.” Recently, Reddit has been quicker to ban subreddits before controversy gets out of hand. Admins acted quickly last month to shut down “Deepfakes,” machine learning-assisted fake porn, once it hit the news. They reacted even faster to the commenter outcry over r/NoMorals—it was gone before it received any significant media coverage.
The looming question for Reddit now is what to do with r/The_Donald, its hugely popular cesspit of pro-Trump content. The_Donald has always shared the same antagonistic, hard-right mindset as 8chan or 4chan’s /pol/, but the recent revelation that it was also a vector for Russian pro-Trump propaganda has led to more calls to ban it.
So far, Reddit’s policy has been to let The_Donald fall apart on its own. Two years into the process, that doesn’t yet seem to be happening.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.