Reddit Community Self-Policing Hate Speech

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Hate speech on the Internet is a contentious issue. Feminists often come under fire across various social networks, as highlighted in the recent spat between Tumblr and 4chan. Attacks on LGBT individuals cause conflict on social networks, getting plenty of users in trouble. However, Reddit users have been working to reduce the use of hate speech and a recent study indicates these efforts might be effective.

There is a slogan, which originated on 4chan, that is often posted in response to the original poster — “OP is a fag/faggot.” The phrase leaked out from 4chan and was picked up by other sites as a canned witticism to show disapproval for the content that the original poster brought to everyone else. But Reddit users seem to be shedding the phrase.

Redditor Aakil Fernandes decided to run a test. He gathered approximately 150,000 posts and then selected approximately 20,000 analyze. The posts were selected because they used the words “fag” or “faggot,” were not heavily downvoted and because they represented community standards as a whole. The test revealed a marked decrease in usage during the period from January 2012 to April 2014.

Fernandes posted his results, and some users see the usage of the term as “an earnest slur,” while others note that a decrease in usage could be because the meme reached critical mass at some point, and is just no longer funny. Any joke posted over 20,000 times would lose some of its wit.

With the decrease in usage, it could be possible to draw the conclusion that Reddit is self-policing. Users may be down-voting or ostracizing those who still use the phrase, or it could be the case that Reddit is evolving like any other community.

The total elimination of hate speech is practically impossible, but perhaps social media users are modifying behaviors to keep up with societal changes. Whether social networks are engendering users with more tolerance, or if a more tolerant world is changing social networks remains unclear.

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