Reddit wades into the gun control debate

A gun. (Bloomberg pic)

NEW YORK: Several popular firearms-related communities were removed from link-sharing site Reddit on Wednesday after an update to the company’s policies.

“As of March 21, 2018, we have made a new addition to our content policy forbidding transactions for certain classes of goods and services,” a Reddit spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “Moving forward, we are prohibiting transactions that are either illicit or strictly controlled. Communities focused on such transactions and users who attempt to conduct them will be banned from the site.”

The policy impacted pages, known as subreddits, which discussed firearms, ammunition, explosives, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, stolen goods, personal information, paid services involving physical sexual contact and falsified documents.

Subreddits banned from the site under the new policy include r/GunDeals, r/GunsForSale and r/AKMarketplace.

The policy change invoked a lively discussion on the platform. A number of Reddit users specifically expressed frustration about the loss of r/GunDeals, arguing that the group does not actually conduct sales but links to deals offered elsewhere. The company responded: “Because this policy forbids facilitating the transactions, it impacts communities that are dedicated to connecting buyers and sellers. We want to emphasize, though that communities dedicated solely to discussion about guns and gun ownership are not impacted by this change.”

On Twitter, one user called on the National Rifle Association to respond to Reddit’s decision. “We need a boycott,” the user said.

Since the Feb. 14. Parkland, Florida, school shooting, which left 17 dead, a number of companies have waded into the firearms regulation debate. Walmart Inc. and Dick’s Sporting Goods both said they would increase the gun purchasing age to 21, and a variety of private sector companies cut ties with the NRA. Earlier this week, YouTube quietly introduced tighter restrictions on firearms content.

Reddit has been something of a Wild West for users building communities by curating and commenting on content in subreddits. Sometimes, as in the case with gun sales, marketplaces emerge in the course of conversations within specific communities. With Reddit’s increased popularity—the site is the sixth-most-visited in the world—has come introspection and stricter content guidelines. The company recognizes its responsibility for having provided a platform for hate groups to flourish and, more recently, the possibility that Russian propaganda on the site may have played a role in influencing the 2016 presidential election. Congressional investigators are now seeking additional information from Reddit.

Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Steve Huffman earlier this month told a panel at the South by Southwest conference that banning communities is a long process that involves “internal hand wringing” around the importance of protecting free speech. The site is in the process of refining those policies now while finalizing a redesign.

The San Francisco-based company was last valued at more than $1.7 billion and is backed by investors that include Peter Thiel, Marc Andreessen and music artist Snoop Dogg.