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Popular Reddit communities go private to protest 'censorship' and hiring of controversial politician

The controversy exploded after Reddit banned a UK politics subreddit moderator for sharing an article that mentioned former UK politician Aimee Knight, who the company apparently hired in recent months.

Popular Reddit communities go private to protest 'censorship' and hiring of controversial politician
Cover Image Source: (L) Ondřej Pros/Getty Images (R)Aimee Challenor on April 28, 2017, in London, England. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Hundreds of popular Reddit communities set their status to private this week to protest the website's handling of a controversy involving former UK politician Aimee Knight. According to Metro, the controversy exploded after Reddit banned a UK politics subreddit moderator for sharing an article that mentioned Knight, who the company apparently hired in recent months.  Knight was previously suspended from the Green Party after selecting her father — who was convicted of violent sexual assault on a child — as her election agent in a 2017 political campaign.



 

More than 200 subreddits — including the 27 million-member forum r/Music and subreddits dedicated to Apple Mac computers and the games Among Us and Pokémon Go — set their status to private over the alleged censorship, reports The Verge. Reddit later reversed the ban and said in an explanatory statement that it was fighting a harassment campaign against an employee. "Earlier this month, a Reddit employee was the target of harassment and doxxing," the post said. "Reddit activated standard processes to protect the employee from such harassment, including initiating an automated moderation rule to prevent personal information from being shared. The moderation rule was too broad, and this week it incorrectly suspended a moderator who posted content that included personal information."



 

While the company added that its "intent was never to remove any and all mentions of this admin's name," the statement failed to convince several moderators. They pointed out that Knight had occupied a public political position and that the article in question hadn't linked her name with her employment at Reddit. "You've completely ignored the real issue: the person you have hired is, at best, sympathetic to pedophilia," one popular comment said. "I don't condone doxxing virtually anyone, but what you're describing isn't doxxing. It's posting the name of a public figure."



 

Knight was suspended from the Green Party in 2018 amid an inquiry into selecting her father, David Challenor, as her election agent after he had been arrested and charged with raping and torturing a 10-year-old child. She was also suspended by the Liberal Democrats party in 2019 when her now-husband appeared to have tweeted about having fantasies involving sex with children. Knight claimed that the account had been hacked. Given her history, for some Reddit users, Knight's alleged hiring echoed a long-running controversy over how Reddit handled child sexualization in the past.



 

"This site still has a major pedophilia problem and a person in the role of 'community management' has troubling connections to pedophilia," one moderator wrote. "I don't think the admin is a pedophile herself, but she has shown in multiple ways that she cannot be trusted to handle the issue properly." Following strong pushback from moderators, CEO Steve Huffman later admitted in a statement that the site had been overzealous in trying to prevent harassment. "We would like to give you all an update on the recent issues that have transpired concerning a specific Reddit employee, as well as provide you with context into actions that we took to prevent doxxing and harassment."



 

"As of today, the employee in question is no longer employed by Reddit. We built a relationship with her first as a mod and then through her contractor work on RPAN. We did not adequately vet her background before formally hiring her," Huffman said in the statement. "We've put significant effort into improving how we handle doxxing and harassment, and this employee was the subject of both. In this case, we over-indexed on protection, which had serious consequences in terms of enforcement actions."



 

"Debate and criticism have always been and always will be central to the conversation on Reddit—including discussion about public figures and Reddit itself—as long as they are not used as vehicles for harassment. Mentioning a public figure's name should not get you banned. We care deeply for Reddit and appreciate that you do too. We understand the anger and confusion about these issues and their bigger implications. The employee is no longer with Reddit, and we’ll be evolving a number of relevant internal policies. We did not operate to our own standards here. We will do our best to do better for you."

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