What It's Like When Redditors Ban Your Website

Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 05:09 PM

UPDATE, 11/4: Mother Jones is unbanned. But just Mother Jones.

/R/ politics is one of Reddit's most popular subreddits, with over three million accounts subscribed. On Monday, its moderators added a bunch of websites to their banned list. The ban means that those sites' work is completely barred from being linked to on /r/ politics. 

The list includes outlets from across the ideological spectrum: Alternet, Drudge, The Huffington Post, Mother Jones, National Review, Reason, Salon, Vice, and Twitter (!). I spoke to Mother Jones co-editor Clara Jeffery about how the site found out about the ban, and how it's affected them. 

So when’d you find out you guys were banned?

That’s a good question. One of our editors who is on Reddit a lot on his own time brought it to our attention first. But also, users of the subreddit started tweeting at us to tell us we’d been banned.

The decision to ban a site gets made by volunteer moderators. They have a criteria that describes why a publication could be banned, but they don’t tell you why exactly you were, do they?

No. We’ve not heard from the /r/ politics mods directly. They give three possible reasons. One is spam. We have a strict “Don’t Spam Reddit" policy. They’ll also ban sites for sensationalism and low quality posts.

As for quality, we’ve won a lot of National Magazine awards, the Polk awards, Online News Association award. I think our quality’s high. We’re a reported shop, not an opinion-driven shop. We do investigative journalism. All our articles are fact-checked. Kevin Drum, in particular, does some news analysis, but I don’t think anyone would call him sensationalistic.

So I don’t know. It’s mystifying. I appreciate that mods are trying to manage their community. But to ban a fairly haphazard list of publications that do really great reporting around politics, from left right and center, is mystifying.

I was trying to read between the lines of what they’d banned and it seemed like they were targeting places they see as inflected. As a reader, my understanding of Mother Jones has always been that you guys have an outlook, but your reporting is really solid. 

We report from all side of an issue. We do investigations into things that people on the left or the Democrats wish we wouldn’t. And all of our journalism is fact-checked, sourced, and linked through. Facts are what we do, and statistical data analysis journalism is a big part of what we do. So I don’t see that part either. And we don’t really lace our reporting with opinion. It’s more, we’re a shop that cares about the little guy and inequality. So that informs some, but by no means all, of our story selection.

The ban isn’t Reddit-wide, but the politics subreddit has 3 million users. Is this hurting your traffic, or are you just annoyed on principle?

A little of both. Reddit is a spike traffic driver for us. I’m sure we’re losing a little traffic overall. It hasn’t been so huge and noticeable that we’re freaking out.

But it’s more on principle. This is the internet’s premier user-driven discussion forum. We feel we add to the conversation. If Reddit users want to post our high quality, fact-led journalism, we think they should be able to do that. And if they have an issue with our journalism, they should be able to engage with it. That’s what good journalism should do, inform the debate.

And I feel just as strongly about the other publications that have been banned. It’s not so much, "just let Mother Jones back in." It’s more, what is this policy? Because it doesn't make sense, to the people who’ve been banned or, frankly, to tons of journalists at places that haven’t been banned.

It feels like it’d be crazy for a news outlet to say, we don’t like the general tenor of this other outlet’s journalism, so we’ll never acknowledge their existence again. We’ll never refer to their work. They don’t exist in the world of our site. It’s a very strange policy.

Particularly for something that’s entire ethos is about openness and user-driven conversation, right? It’s not something you expect in a free society, and especially for something that prides itself as being at the bleeding edge of user driven content and First Amendment principles.

Is there a formal appeals process? What happens next?

Our philosophy has been that it should be worked out within the Reddit community. We know folks at Reddit, but this is amongst their moderators, who are volunteers. And there’s a vigorous discussion about this going on in the subreddit. One would hope this would lead to a realization that this policy is flawed and contra to what Reddit is supposed to be about. I don't understand when or how the moderators are changed out, so I can’t speak to if that's a possible solution. I would hope just that enlightened moderators would come to a discussion that this isn't what they should be doing.

It’s not clear to me if the reason they ban sites is because they know Reddit's important to web traffic and it’s meant to be punitive for bad behavior, or if it’s because they’ve decided those site’s content is just so toxic to their discussion that they don’t want it in there.

I know they have banned places before in a temporarily, penalty-box waything. When they found out staffers of a  publication are sending story after story to a subreddit. Blogspam, as its called. But we respect user-driven communities. We know they don’t like it. So we don’t do it.

So then, you’re left with the other two supposed criteria. [Outlets that are banned for their low-quality posts or sensationalism] And I think that’s false on its face. Our journalism has been recognized for being internationally really important. So I don’t think it’s about quality or sensationalism.

I’ll tell you something interesting. We had a story going up this morning about bombastic speeches that Ted Cruz’s father has given, that’ve been up on YouTube for years. They won't let users post our story, but at least for a good long time today the top story on the /r/ politics subreddit was a Talking Points Memo summary of our story.

Now, it’s not that TPM just aggregates, by any means. But why are you going to let someone post an aggregation of our story when you wouldn’t let your users post the story itself? 



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Comments [13]

DK from Massachusetts

Motherjones should be banned.. they are the king of anti freespeech censorship themselves. Write any intelligent thought provoking comment disagreeing with their highly biased articles and it will be removed very quickly since they can't handle anyone disagreeing with them.

Nov. 21 2015 03:24 PM
Martin Timothy from Brisbane Australia

Censorship is Reddit's shame .. each time one of my accounts was banned I was forced to make a new one until I had ninety six, each of which is now banned across the entire Reddit spectrum .. all of my posts say the same thing.


The Martin Luther Kings man & wife and Andy Warhol, were on the Grassy Knoll with shooters at the assassination of President Kennedy..


Black sponsored race killing goes unpunished in Australia..


Holocaust truth, Hitler and all of the top Nazis were Jews, the non Jewish Nazis Ernst Röhm and the SA hierarchy whose thuggery and violence put H into power, were slaughtered in the Night of the Long Knives Massacre of June 1934.


Jewish culpability for the 911 attacks.

* http://www.reddit.com/user/GreatCaesarsGhost9
* http://www.reddit.com/user/DonApollo
* http://www.reddit.com/user/TheGramarien
* http://www.reddit.com/user/MercyShakespeare
* http://www.reddit.com/user/PlayboyNolan
* http://www.reddit.com/user/RoyPabst/
* http://www.reddit.com/user/TheGreatAustralian/
* http://www.reddit.com/user/TooBigForHollywood/
* http://www.reddit.com/user/DoctorDichotomy/
* http://www.reddit.com/user/MarcusAndro
* http://www.reddit.com/user/ImoldIwalkImumble
* http://www.reddit.com/user/JoJoMouth
* http://www.reddit.com/user/PhineasSnaque
* http://www.reddit.com/user/ClownBozo
* http://www.reddit.com/user/RoyRockett
* http://www.reddit.com/user/RexYehudi/
* http://www.reddit.com/user/CatfishOHanlon/
* http://www.reddit.com/user/TheTardWithTude/
* http://www.reddit.com/user/UselessEater4439771/
* http://www.reddit.com/user/NamVetToker/
* http://www.reddit.com/user/RafaelDiSpinoza .. etc etc

Since then missives as to why sent to various moderation panels have met with scorn, and have led to an even more vicious round of shadow banning, insofar as new accounts are banned even before a single post comes into being!

Steve Huffman should see to it all bans are lifted, my 911, JFK and Holocaust data will stand up in court, as will the claim the Australian government deliberately confuted race killing trials in favor of the black defendants!

Dec. 30 2013 12:59 AM

Kings like to remain king by exerting power. The way they do this in subreddits is by banning people they don't like.

Nov. 16 2013 03:29 AM
John Pacella

While I applaud your motivation to remove the execrable influence of sites such as Drudge, Brietbat, and Heritage…why have you allowed Fox "News" to remain?

Was this an oversight?

Bear in mind that in a recent tragicomedy installment of Hannity, a "panel discussion" addressing the "horror stories" of the ACA was presented. One of the panel, a Mr Cox, alleged his "company" was ruined the requirements of the ACA. That was either a complete fabrication by the network or a complete failure by the network to vet Mr Cox's "story".

Cox was later interviewed where it came to light that his financial woes, according to his own admission, could NOT be attributed to the ACA. Moreover, since his "company" only had 4 (thats F..O..U…R) employees, the ACA regulations exempted it from offering health insurance. His reply to the reporter? "I'll get back to you."

To borrow a phrase from Krauthammer, the systematic mendacity of Fox's overall approach ("We are News unless we are caught lying and then we are protected by the mantle of Editorial Commentators") and it's many programs specializing in full out distortions CANNOT have escaped your notice.

Lets have an even playing field…just as interest groups can flood a blog thread with propaganda, how trustworthy are your "anonymous" arbiters? Your thoughts?

Nov. 02 2013 02:03 PM
John Pacella


Nov. 02 2013 01:48 PM
Yishan sold out

Interesting how this happened at the same time the "reddit is broke" bullshit article came out. At the same time, a downvote bot and sockpuppet army swept through the site, as well as an army of corporate agenda pushing shills.

They are now controlling the content instead of the community. Mods are compliant, and deleting massively up voted stories that break no rules, but go against the new "owners" plans for the community.

Control the content, control the conversation, control the upvotes, control the hivemind.

Sorry about your luck. If you guys were smart you'd start a new "reddit" without all the bullshit.

Nov. 02 2013 10:45 AM

That ban list reads like a group of pre-schoolers assembled it. No rhyme or reason. On second thought, I guess that's an insult to pre-schoolers. The "moderators" betray their ignorance of all things political. Just another reason my life isn't run by reddit.

Nov. 01 2013 05:08 PM

It's Clara Jeffery, not Jeffrey.

Nov. 01 2013 10:31 AM
Mox Cox from Florida

Subreddits are each like fiefdoms.

Cliques of moderators clump together and make rules however they see fit, for the weal or woe of content creators, whether bloggers or journalists or pundits or whomever. This could mean special perks for someone on their good side, and dead silence for someone who rubs them the wrong way.

Don't think for a moment Reddit is any kind of a democracy, nor a community. Reddit *facilitates* community, but is not itself a community in spite of what some of its bubbly cheerleaders might say. In a true democracy one would hope the content that gets posted wouldn't be up to a small sliver of a site's userbase to regally give their approval.

Nov. 01 2013 09:33 AM
Mike Masnick

I'm the editor of another site on the ban list (Techdirt.com). Most of the bans came about 3 weeks ago. A few of our readers alerted us to it, and it resulted in me having the most ridiculously pointless discussion with the Reddit mod who many say is in charge of this effort. He still has yet to explain why we were banned, other than to insist that they had received many complaints about the sites on that list. When I asked for specifics, none were given.

When I pointed out -- as have many r/politics users -- that if people dislike the content, they can just vote it down, I was told (1) that I do not understand Reddit and (2) that I couldn't possibly comprehend the nature of being a moderator for such a community.

I'm find with the fact that the mods are free to do what they want with their subreddit -- that's part of Reddit culture, which I think is great. I just find it bizarre that they don't seem to have a clear policy on all of this. The same day Mother Jones (and us at Techdirt) were banned, MotherJones was *ALSO* listed as a "notable" site, which is used as an example of good sites.

Finally, when I pointed out to the Reddit mods that rejecting many of the sites in the list appeared to take out direct subject matter expertise and knowledge which likely went beyond the AP sites that were left allowed, I was told that AP reporters are the best reporters in the world, and that I should not question their judgment -- but that "any one in their basement can start a blog."

That this was told to me by an anonymous Reddit mod seemed rather ironic.

Either way, now that they've finally announced this officially, it looks like the response is almost 100% negative, which suggests that, contrary to what I was told, this was exactly NOT what the community there wanted.

Nov. 01 2013 03:16 AM
backpackwayne from So. Cal

Don't take it personally. They banned all kinds of sites and for no other reasons than a few of the mods didn't like them. The list is huge. Now the place is almost a circlejerk of "The Guardian" posts and is hardly worth visiting anymore. I was an very active submitter for years but now see no reason to even bother. It's just NSA..., NSA, NSA, NSA NSA, and then more NSA. It's mind numbing.I do moderate r/democrats and just to let you know you are welcome there any time.

So don't take it personal. It's almost a compliment.

Oct. 31 2013 10:19 PM
Angela Motorman from Columbus Ohio

From the perspective of a six-year veteran redditor, what is happening at reddit/r/politics is a coup. It's true that the mods are all volunteers, but what's not clear from this interview is that the sitewide admins (claim to) have no recourse when ideologues manipulate the trust-based structure of reddit to close out any possibility of appeal.

First, let's remember what's at stake here: a vibrant community of three million subscribers. So "start another reddit" is not a fair response to redditors who already built this community over most of a decade, only to watch it taken over and locked down by amateur dictators. This is not even remotely a tempest in a teapot, or a footnote to internet history.

There are now about 36 mods on r/politics, and the vast majority of them have no previous demonstrated interest in or knowledge of politics (most user histories are open to public view; anybody can check this), let alone journalism.

They have accomplished a complete betrayal of reddit's mission: reader curated content.

This glorious, messy experient, built on collaborative editing based on merit of individual submissions, has metasticized into rejection of whole domains because the new mods refuse to allow readers to edit their own reading list.

At a time when professional journalists are talking about assessing "acts of journalism" rather than certifying individual reporters, when journalism editors and educators are finally rejecting false equivalence models for deciding fairness, the new mods at r/politics are acting in willfully uninformed lockstep to reject any source that has ever struck them as "sensationalist" or biased.

And their definition of what constitutes politics would be hilarious if it weren't so dangerous: only elected officials and elections count. Their guidelines claim that major movements count as politics, but that's not how they're choosing what to allow or remove. They've removed articles because they didn't know what AP.org and CJR.org are; because "GOP" was in forbidden all-caps format; because a study of astroturfing or gun ownership "isn't US politics, and worse.

A few honest, knowledgeable mods tried to resist the long campaign by right-wing shills to denounce the natural progressive drift of the reddit demographic. Their favored term for the lively, smart conversation in the community was been "cesspool" -- this word is a marker for those who would destroy one of the largest communities within reddit.

It was never true, until now.

If this coup can reversed, it will come about as a result of outside pressure leveraged through the site admins. If they care at all about the original mission of reddit, they need to recognize that the openness of the structure has been manipulated to destroy that mission. They need tolisten to the voices of hundreds of redditors, who talked back to the new mods here: http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/1pedlv/concerning_recent_changes_in_allowed_domains/

Oct. 31 2013 09:52 PM

reddit.com/u/theredditpope was the main architect of the /r/politics ban list.

He's also a staunch conservative.

Make of that what you will.

Oct. 31 2013 09:42 PM

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