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posted by LaminatorX on Thursday April 17 2014, @03:46PM   Printer-friendly
from the First-rule-of-censorship dept.

In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations in mid-2013, moderators at /r/technology configured filters to automatically censor posts containing "politicized" words, based on findings by creq. This censorship appears to be ongoing. The banned words include NSA, Comcast, Anonymous, CISPA, SOPA, Swartz, FCC, net neutrality, GHCQ, EFF, ACLU, and others.

The admins claim they simply configured their bots to delete "politicized" posts. Yet their filters (which were not announced or explained) effectively precluded meaningful discussion of contemporary issues. Could this reflect willing government collaboration by Reddit's admins, or might they have been served with an NSL to force compliance?

News coverage of the censorship is at the Daily Dot. A fuller list of banned words are available on pastebin. The reddit post reporting censorship on /r/rechnology.

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  • (Score: 3, Funny) by oodaloop on Thursday April 17 2014, @03:53PM

    by oodaloop (1982) <jkaminoffNO@SPAMzoho.com> on Thursday April 17 2014, @03:53PM (#32716)

    I guess that would only censor people who can't spell GCHQ.

    Apparently I'm lame for yelling one acronym. Sorry.

    Whoops, still yelling. I need to tone it down quite a bit.

    How about I just whisper the rest of the day?

    --
    Many Bothans died to bring you this comment.
    • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:00PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:00PM (#32718)

      How about I just whisper the rest of the day?

      Good idea. That way maybe the [censored] and the [censored] won't hear you when you speak about [censored] or [censored]. :-)

  • (Score: 4, Informative) by TK on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:13PM

    by TK (2760) on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:13PM (#32720)

    The moderators on reddit have more or less absolute power. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. Different boards have different rules. /r/askhistorians is incredibly banhammer-happy, but this results in actual, qualitative discussion of history, instead of lame puns and anecdotal evidence about what some user's high school world history teacher said this one time. /r/technology is one of the default boards (subs), so it gets a lot of traffic. It's not unbelievable that they get a lot of politicized conversation, even when the expressed purpose of the board is to discuss technology. From their rules: "Please try and post things directly political to /r/politics or to another similar subreddit".

    That being said, their rules also include "Posts should be about technology (news, updates, political policy, etc.)". This is a heavy handed approach, and will most likely be dialed back as the users complain, or there will be a mass migration to a similar board that allows such discussion. (I'm sure there's an /r/technologyinpolitics or /r/technocracy or somesuch.)

    If TPTB wanted to censor the masses, they would put these filters on /r/politics, /r/news, and /r/worldnews, this is just an overzealous response from frustrated mods.

    --
    The fleas have smaller fleas, upon their backs to bite them, and those fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Ethanol-fueled on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:43PM

      by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:43PM (#32730) Homepage

      Back when there was the big shitstorm about Reddit's wholesale censoring [washingtonsblog.com] of the Snowden revelations, specifically ones which were relevant to the discussion, it didn't reek of some automated system innocently deleting offtopic posts - moderators were actively removing posts on /news and /worldnews, not just /technology.

      So yes, it would seem that Reddit has been, if wasn't already from the start, co-opted by influence.

      • (Score: 2) by TK on Thursday April 17 2014, @06:45PM

        by TK (2760) on Thursday April 17 2014, @06:45PM (#32781)

        Interesting. I was unaware. I unsubbed from news, worldnews and politics almost as soon as I made an account.

        I would mod you informative if I could.

        --
        The fleas have smaller fleas, upon their backs to bite them, and those fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum
    • (Score: 2) by hemocyanin on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:45PM

      by hemocyanin (186) on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:45PM (#32732) Journal

      Reditters should build a SylentReddit I think.

      In a perfect world, people who do shit like these reddit mods are doing, limiting even factual discussion about broad swathes of current events (you seriously can't even make a factual statement about the NSA in a tech forum? WTF?), would result in the entire ecosystem of users moving on to something else, and leave the censoring assholes with nothing but a smoldering hole.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:18PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:18PM (#32722)

    Occam's little helper (and the DailyDot piece) says that it's just lazy mods letting a filter do their work for them.

    "Could this reflect willing government collaboration by Reddit's admins, or might they have been served with an NSL to force compliance?"

    Both of those speculations seem WAY overblown to me. /not-a-pro-gov-bot

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by MrGuy on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:19PM

    by MrGuy (1007) on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:19PM (#32723)

    which states "Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered with the word 'no.'" Wikipedia link [wikipedia.org]

    OK, TFS isn't the headline, but I think it applies.

    Could this reflect willing government collaboration by Reddit's admins, or might they have been served with an NSL to force compliance?

    The statement about NSL's reflects a lack of understanding of what NSL's are, and what they can and can't do. A NSL [wikipedia.org] is basically a secret subpoena - a request for information or records. It's not a "court order" to DO a thing. Just to provide records. You can't use an NSL to force someone to delete posts. You can force them to hand over their e-mails, browsing history, cell phone records. But not go in and delete or modify things.

    Could the FISA court (or some other court) issue a court order demanding censorship (but not via an NSL)? Maybe, but it's pretty doubtful they'd do so. First, what's the point of censoring discussion ONLY on Reddit? There are PLENTY of places to talk about Snowden et al freely and openly. INCLUDING elsewhere on Reddit. What good would demanding ONLY /r/technology be? Second, censorship demands are still pretty hot items journalistically, and we still have a first amendment, so such orders can and would be fought in court by news organizations (at least enough to get plenty of publicity). The government is sneaky but not stupid.

    Could some government organization have leaned on Reditt, and "encouraged" them to "self police" here? Possibly, and certainly the most likely of the very unlikely ideas here. Who exactly would this organization be? And, again, why Reditt (and only Reditt, apparently)? Again, there are many, many forums out there to discuss these topics. What's special about Reditt? And, not just reddit, but /r/technology (as opposed to, say, /r/politics, which has MANY discussions on the "banned" words)?

    Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. The editors saw what was supposed to be a technology forum becoming cluttered with political discussion. They wanted to remove the off-topic conversations from their subreddit. They did it in a heavy handed and non-transparent way.

    • (Score: 2) by Serial_Priest on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:50PM

      by Serial_Priest (2493) <accusingangelNO@SPAMautistici.org> on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:50PM (#32733)

      Clarification: my thought that the NSL might have been used to obtain, e.g., mod account details, server private keys, and other data that would effectively allow government entities to control the website as appropriate. Obviously, subpoenas are not orders. But if you have root access you don't need any orders. Best of all, you have plausible deniability if anyone questions your actions (cf. "never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.") Neither malice nor stupidity are in short supply in large bureaucracies or governments.

      A year ago, I might have agreed with you that such a scenario is unlikely. But manipulation of popular opinion through infiltration of online communities is a stated goal of US and UK intelligence, as per the leaked documents. See, for example: https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/02/24/jtri g-manipulation/ [firstlook.org]

    • (Score: 2) by tibman on Thursday April 17 2014, @06:04PM

      by tibman (134) Subscriber Badge on Thursday April 17 2014, @06:04PM (#32767)

      There is another possibility. If there was an (or a reoccurring) NSL that requested data about who posted questions with the certain words then the filter was added to prevent the need to fulfill that NSL. So in a way the NSL did cause functionality to change.

      --
      SN won't survive on lurkers alone. Write comments.
  • (Score: 1) by opinionated_science on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:39PM

    by opinionated_science (4031) on Thursday April 17 2014, @04:39PM (#32728)

    is this a bad joke? I mean, you almost couldn't put this in a hollywood movie and have anyone believe it....!

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17 2014, @05:15PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17 2014, @05:15PM (#32747)

    The title and body of this post strongly imply that the reddit admins had anything to do with this. In reality it was done by the user-moderators of a user-created section of the site.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17 2014, @05:27PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17 2014, @05:27PM (#32751)

      Sometimes people will do this to their particular boards. As sometimes I know this is weird... People like to troll.

      One board I frequently visit finally had enough. If it is anything to do with politics or religion the board operators do not delete the post. But just ban it to their own section where they can argue it out. It keeps 99% of the users happy. It also seemed to make the trolls decide to try elsewhere as their response rate went to nearly 0.

      People have the right to free speech and all that. But that also means I have the right to tell them to STFU.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Serial_Priest on Thursday April 17 2014, @07:05PM

      by Serial_Priest (2493) <accusingangelNO@SPAMautistici.org> on Thursday April 17 2014, @07:05PM (#32787)

      r/technology is one of the main subreddits, and up until this censorship was exposed, it was moderated by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian ("kn0thing"), among other interested parties. See this series of posts: http://www.reddit.com/user/kn0thing [reddit.com]

      In theory, you are correct that "admins" and "user-moderators" are separate. In practice, they overlap significantly, both on Reddit and elsewhere. It is disingenous to suggest that this censorship was divorced from the site owners' intentions.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17 2014, @05:57PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 17 2014, @05:57PM (#32762)

    So they're fine with child porn and other borderline content, in the guise of free speech, but when free speech is actually the issue, they censor it?

    Yeah, that's pretty accurate to what I know of the reddit administration.

    • (Score: 2) by Nobuddy on Thursday April 17 2014, @11:46PM

      by Nobuddy (1626) on Thursday April 17 2014, @11:46PM (#32900)

      I assume you are not aware that jailbait and all related have been banned for years now. And were banned as soon as they became aware of what they were.
      Yea, it was pretty lazy to not check subs until a news article did it for you- but the action was swift and brutal as soon as it was revealed.