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Reddit does not respond to hype over COVID-19 disinformation

Reddit has finally cracked down on misinformation about COVID-19 following growing calls to action, though it probably won’t satisfy many of its critics. The social site has banned r / NoNewNormal and quarantined 54 other COVID-19 rejection subreddits, but not because of the false claims themselves. Instead, it’s for abuse – NoNewNormal was caught for massive robbery (i.e. flooding other subreddits) despite warnings, while other communities violated the rule against harassment and intimidation.

However, the company has not abandoned its approach to combating disinformation itself. Reddit said it restricts posts that encourage “significant risk of physical harm” or is manipulation designed to mislead others, but does not mention clearing posts or subreddits just to show false claims about COVID-19 or vaccines.

Reddit has previously defended its position, arguing that its platform is designed to encourage “open and credible” conversations, even if they disagree with widely held consensus. However, this position did not satisfy many Reddit users. Business Insider noted 135 subreddits have gone dark (meaning private) to protest Reddit’s perceived tolerance of misinformation about COVID-19, including large communities like r / TIFU.

Critics among these groups argued that Reddit allowed these groups to thrive through “inaction and malice,” and that Reddit has not been consistent in enforcing its own disinformation and abuse policy. As one redditor pointed outReddit’s allegations about allowing dissent don’t matter much – COVID-19 denial groups present false allegations, not just opposing opinions.

The situation is familiar. Reddit has been accused of delaying inciting hatred, only responding when the scream became too loud to ignore. The disinformation response suggests that Reddit is repeating this behavior. Not that it would be shocking. The site often tries to balance its need to please advertisers with its desire to promote free expression, and this is just the latest example of this balancing act that generates a storm of indignation.

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