Reddit users rebel over banning of fat-shaming subforums
Bald man looking at the laptop computer (Shutterstock)

Rebellious Reddit users have swamped the site with derogatory comments about staff and images of overweight people after its decision to ban several subforums.

On Reddit’s r/all page there was an overnight deluge of derogatory postings about Ellen Pao, the interim chief executive, who has led a campaign to clean up harassment on the site.

Five subreddits were banned in total: two which made fat-shaming comments, one racist, one transphobic and one which targeted gamers. One of the subreddits, r/fatpeoplehate, had more than 150,000 subscribers; the others all had under 4,000.

Since the announcement, many alternative obesity-related subreddits have been created, and users have begun a petition calling on Pao to resign for what they claim is an attack on the unfettered free speech they had previously enjoyed on the site.

Crude photoshopped images of Pao on an obese body were appearing, and the popular photography subreddit r/pics was briefly flooded with images of overweight people.

Wednesday’s announcement made it clear that direct attacks on identifiable individuals were the issue, and implied that the site would still notionally allow racism and other kinds of hate speech, if an individual was not the target. Users have argued that subreddits are their own, insular communities, with active policies not to link to other forums, and it would be unusual for anyone unsuspecting to come across them.

In recent years, Reddit has made small inroads into the free-for-all atmosphere that had existed on the site, closing down forums dedicated to suggestive images of children and young teens, “creep shots” of unaware women, as well as a subreddit that had distributed pictures of hacked celebrity nudes.

Reddit bosses have, however, allowed many pages critical of them to exist, including r/chairmanpao and r/paoyongyang.

Wednesday’s announcement about the subreddit closures said staff wanted “as little involvement as possible but will be involved when needed to protect privacy and free expression, and to prevent harassment”.

“We’re banning behaviour, not ideas,” the statement continued. “We want to be open about our involvement: we will ban subreddits that allow their communities to use the subreddit as a platform to harass individuals when moderators don’t take action.” The statement was posted by Pao, as well as Jessica Moreno, head of community and support, and founder Alexis Ohanian. © Guardian News and Media 2015