Any Black person who has been on Reddit for any reason knows that the platform exists as the digital capital of the internet for the white, racist and fragile. On June 29, Reddit responded to pressure by hundreds of users and moderators on the site to do something about the virtual Klan rally happening on its platform regularly by releasing a new content policy addressing racism and hate speech. Recently, a number of subreddit admins came out to speak on their experiences with racism on the site and express their cautious optimism that this time Reddit’s policy change might make a difference.
In a series of interviews with Insider, subreddit moderators recalled how they started subreddits to provide spaces for Black people to discuss issues, joke around and share memes free of the white Reddit users who spew racism, harass members of color and cause posts by Black users to be “downvoted into oblivion.” They all soon found that the Black spaces they created weren’t so safe after all, as white racists often infiltrated the subreddits and continued their onslaught of racial harassment.
When Reddit user TheYellowRose joined the platform in 2012, she was simply looking to “pursue memes.” But the now 30-year-old health inspector, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of safety and privacy concerns, quickly learned that as a Black woman, her experience on Reddit would not be as simple as posting and browsing entertaining content.
“You start to see that the site is super racist,” she told Insider. “Like, you just can’t be openly Black in a lot of spaces on Reddit.”
Redditor Fried_Green_Potatoes, who publicly goes by Martina X, had a similar experience when she began posting on the platform.
“On Reddit, when you’re supposed to be anonymous, that emboldens people to be awful — even worse than they would be in public,” she told Insider. “Online, they reveal their true selves.”
In an attempt to find solidarity on the platform, TheYellowRose joined the subreddit r/blackgirls, a space that describes itself as “a safe community” for Black women. But the reality of the subreddit, she said, did not meet that description.
“We were constantly getting trolled by racists,” she said. “We would post pictures about looking cute, like our hair and stuff, and then people would come and tell us that we are hideous, that we look like monkeys.”
These experiences by Black Reddit users are not unique. In 2015, The Southern Poverty Law Center classified Reddit as a source of “the most violently racist internet content.”
Last year, the platform made a change to its content policy that was purported to ban “content that threatens, harasses, or bullies.” But that apparently didn’t do much to stop the constant bigotry aimed at Black people and other marginalized communities.
Reddit didn’t finally come to glory on the fact that its platform brings all the Neo-nazis to the yard until after the death of George Floyd caused the biggest Black Lives Matter movement the world has ever seen. The company decided to take the opportunity to show solidarity with the movement—a move many considered to be a hollow, opportunistic gesture.
On June 1, Reddit CEO Huffman penned a blog post for Reddit employees voicing his support for the Black Lives Matter movement — a move that some moderators saw as hypocritical and insufficient given the platform’s history.
The letter called on leadership to implement a sitewide policy against racism and hate speech, ban “hate communities” and “hate users,” hire women and minorities in leadership roles, recruit more community managers to “to build positive relations” with moderators, and honor Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian’s wish to have his board seat filled by a Black candidate.
Over 800 subreddits signed the letter.
Then, voilà—by the end of June, Reddit announces its new policy addressing racism and hate speech directly resulting in some 2,000 racist subreddits being banned from the site.
Now, you can imagine plenty of people are like, “Nah, this is just more posturing and useless policymaking,” but some moderators of expressed a degree of optimism.
TheYellowRose—who, also co-founded the r/blackladies subreddit which describes itself as “the face of Black women on Reddit” and has become one of the most popular Black spaces on the platform with nearly 50,000 member—told Insider that, despite her issue with the “vulnerable groups” language in the new policy that she fears will allow for loopholes, she’s “optimistic” that, this time, the policy change will yield results for Black people who just want a space for themselves.
Redditor and podcaster Jefferson Kelley—who joined the r/BlackPeopleTwitter subreddit which is dedicated to posting “hilarious or insightful content”—said he was told by a Reddit admin that he would be allowed to reclaim and moderate the r/BlackFathers subreddit which was recently banned after it became a space where the racist “absent Black father” narrative was constantly promoted by other Redditers.
He also expressed optimism about the future of Reddit for Black users.
“I’m really looking forward to the opportunity of being able to actually take this space,” he said. “This is a unique position to be in—so there’s a lot of positive movement there.”