Reddit — Hate Speech or Free Speech?

Adi Robertson for The Verge

Committing to absolute, hands-off openness will eventually mean defending speech that is truly worthless and harmful.

The problem Reddit faces isn’t necessarily allowing hate speech, it’s in hosting a forum for it.

I have used these words in defense of controversial speech before:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” Evelyn Beatrice Hall[1]

… because in general I agree with the sentiment.

No one should be arbitrarily silenced, no matter what they say, even if those words are “truly worthless and harmful”. Yes, KKK members should have the same right to say what they want in public that I do, for exactly the same reason, even though the beliefs of a Klan member and mine could not be more divergent.

It goes back to my Worst Enemy Test: Could you trust your own worst enemy with this power? If not, you need to build in sufficient protections that you could. You should always build laws and societal mores with the idea that someone ideologically opposed to you might end up in power, or someday you will be oppressed using tools you created. It doesn’t matter how pure your intentions and how worthy the cause, if you create a tool that can be misused, it will be.

As a practical matter, it’s arguably better that horrible people feel safe enough to air their hate in public, so that everyone knows that they’re shitty excuses for human beings, rather than forcing them to conceal their beliefs in dark corners of society where they can gather together to fester in secret.

However, there is a difference between the principle of protecting everyone’s right to free speech and providing a pulpit for them. I would defend even the right of my worst enemy to continue to say what she or he wishes to say about me, but I would not provide a forum.[2]

Reddit may decide that they still wish to continue fostering hate under the aegis of what they consider to be neutrality. The repercussions of that decision will probably lead to the eventual death of Reddit as a useful forum for anything positive and productive. Even a fan and prominent user of Reddit, CGP Grey said in a recent podcast that he believes the problems are structural, which is a far more intractable situation than just dealing with a vocal and troublesome minority.


  1. Often, and erroneously attributed to Voltaire.  ↩

  2. There are many reasons I’ve never allowed comments on this blog. You can criticize me anywhere you like, but I’m not going to provide you a place for your criticism; that’s your responsibility.  ↩