It took a bloody revolution at Reddit to come up with some (messy, confusing) guidelines on what constitutes bannable content, but in countries where censorship is already rampant, Reddit’s policy is apparently much more straightforward: Cave to political pressure.
Case in point: Russia, which recently ordered Reddit to remove a two-year-old thread describing how to grow psychedelic mushrooms. Russia’s media authority Roskomnadzor was alerted to the thread by the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, which said the page promoted the use of illegal drugs.
Roskomnadzor announced the ban Wednesday on its Twitter account.
On Wednesday, Roskomnadzor responded by threatening to blacklist Reddit in its entirety, posting announcements on its social media telling service providers to restrict access to the site. Unless, of course, Reddit removed the offensive page, which it quickly did. Reddit was up and running again in Russia the next day.
It’s easy to see why Reddit chose to remove the offending thread. Russia’s been swinging the internet censorship sickle more aggressively than ever these past few months, banning sad Putin memes and levelling threats at the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google. And when it comes to encouraging drug use online, Russia really isn’t known to play around: In 2013, Russia reportedly banned Wikipedia in its entirety for a single article on cannabis smoking. Clearly, Reddit was thinking about its long-term future in the Kremlin, and if that meant disappointing a few shroom-loving hippies, so be it.
But the situation is more than a little ironic, given Reddit’s recent apocalyptic meltdown over transparency, free speech, and banning vile content. It took a revolution and then some for Reddit’s leadership to kinda, sorta admit that racism is awful and shouldn’t be tolerated. And yet, a single threat from a Russian censorship board, and some pretty benign content is quickly scrubbed.
Kind of makes you wonder what, if anything, Reddit does stand for.