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30 Aug, 2013 15:09

RT.com partially banned by Reddit

RT.com partially banned by Reddit

RT.com has been banned on Reddit’s /r/news section, with moderators accusing it of spamming. Puzzled with absurd allegations, RT views the sanctions as an act of censorship with many redditors expressing the same concern.

The announcement of the ban appeared on Reddit at around 12:30 GMT Thursday, with the forum's leading moderator posting: "RT.com has been banned for spam and vote manipulation." It was soon followed by another message, saying that “brigading the thread, downvoting, and crying aren't going to change it, sorry.”

RT immediately contacted the moderators of the /r/news section, as well as Reddit's press office, to request an explanation. But in more than 24 hours no details that could clarify what may have led to the ban have been provided to RT by Reddit.

Reddit’s press office instead replied that it is not consulted by subreddits about their decisions.

“To clarify, it is the prerogative of each individual subreddit's moderators to allow or ban domains from being submitted to their subreddits,” Victoria Taylor, of Reddit’s press service, said. “As we are not moderators of /r/news, we were not involved or consulted on this decision. You would need to appeal to the moderators of /r/news about their decision and address their concerns individually.”

RT has received no reply yet from douglasmacarthur, the moderator of Reddit’s /r/news section.

But later another redditor, BipolarBear0, listed as one of the moderators for the section, said in a comment on the website that there was “no vote manipulation,” calling it “an oversight there, but an honest mistake” by a moderator. 


Responding to Michael Reed, co-founder of the Restore the Fourth movement, BipolarBear0 said he had nothing do with the decision to ban RT.com, but added he had in general been advocating that, “Simply because… It’s the Kremlin.”


RT’s leading web analyst, Aleksey Naumov, said there were no grounds for the moderator to accuse RT.com of spamming.

“Over the last two years, RT’s traffic has increased four- or five-fold,” Naumov said. “Quite naturally, during this period the number of submissions of our materials to Reddit.com, as well as the number of referrals from Reddit to our website, has increased. It’s not difficult to check that it’s not the same people, but different people, who are submitting our stories to Reddit.”

Redditors cry censorship

The ban provoked a heated debate on the website, with one user, datums, writing that it was “unacceptable to ban a major news source without presenting evidence against them.”

However, it later appeared that nearly all the 985 comments posted had been deleted, with only a handful remaining visible on the site.

When some of the users reacting to the message asked to be provided with a screenshot of the thread(s) where RT.com made the alleged violation, moderator Kylde replied: “sorry, no, internal.”


“It is particularly worrisome that this particular outlet offers a perspective that lacks the pro-American bias of major US outlets. RT employs many excellent journalists, and their credibility cannot be called into question any more than The New York Times or CNN,” datums said.

Meanwhile, user Alttoon said that the ban had nothing to do with freedom of information, but was instead “pure censorship at best.” 


The users pointed out that if RT.com was really caught spamming, then it would be banned from the whole website site by the Reddit’s admins, but not only from its /r/news section.


Even Reddit users who frequently disagree with RT’s stance on various issues spoke out against the ban, stressing that it was not the moderators but the audience who should decide what news articles to read.   

“Propaganda machine or not, a news organization should not be banned from a news subreddit,” user MisterGrieves wrote. “ESPECIALLY if one of the reasons is that they post a lot of their stories here. That is the purpose of this subreddit. Banning a news source is censorship and the mod behavior is appalling.”

“The reader will decide if they want to read them or not but removing that option from the reader is wrong,”
he added.

Some users also found the timing of the sanctions against RT.com quite suspicious as it coincided with escalation of events around Syria, with the US being on the brink of invading the country.  

“It certainly seems shady, that exactly in the times when the US is pitted in an interests war with Russia, which may indeed turn into a very real war soon enough, they'd decide to act out against spam from RT,” user maraSara said.   

User Let_them_eat_slogans stressed that sanctions against RT, backed by “zero evidence of wrongdoing,” set “a fantastic precedent” and found support among the other redditors.

After two hours of heated discussion, the moderator, referred to “basic metrics that are used on reddit spammers all the time both by subreddit moderators and reddit staff.”

“One example is plain domain frequency. The rule-of-thumb is 10%. If you submit a lot, and the proportion coming from a certain domain is way higher than that, you're probably a spammer. If there's a lot of users doing that a lot for one domain, you should investigate further to see if it's people working for that domain,” douglasmacarthur said.

He did not elaborate, however, whether any such investigation was carried out before putting the ban into effect. 


The moderator refused to provide proof of alleged violations by RT.com, saying it would disclose the means used by Reddit to detect and tackle spammers and therefore help future perpetrators.


Some three hours after the initial announcement, as more comments of the kind were posted, the Reddit moderator wrote: "OK, we're going to have a vote on whether or not to ban RT. To vote, please click here." However, clicking on the link led to an empty website, Zombo.com.

But the joke wasn’t welcomed by the users, who blamed the moderator for being “unprofessional.”

“Why offer a vote on the subject just to direct to a dumb 90’s troll website? You're just fanning the flames,” user ActionFilmsFan1995 wrote.


The sanctions against RT.com and the way the moderator responded to the complaints prompted some readers to quit the /r/news section subreddit.


While the other redditors demanded actions against douglasmacarthur, like user MikeOracle, who suggested “we need a new moderator, stat.”


Banning domains by list? 

The ban on RT.com remains a trending topic with users of different subreddits, who are discussing the moderator’s behavior. 

In one of the posts at a leading news forum /r/worldnews, which linked to a story from the Daily Dot website, redditor crankzy said the sanctions were imposed by the moderator simply because he “doesn’t like” RT and added that he thinks “it’s biased.”

As a proof, the user provides a link to douglasmacarthur's post from half a year ago, in which he had suggested banning a number of domains from the subreddit, including RT – alongside the Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Gawker, Mashabe, the Raw Story and others. 

The move was explained by the desire to turn /r/news “into the first large news-related subreddit largely free of the alarmism, bias, editorialization, etc.”

“That a site is listed doesn't mean we're accusing it of being a bad site, or even that it isn't a trustworthy news-related organization. It merely means that much of the content on its website isn't appropriate for the specific purpose of this subreddit, which is to gather factual news content,” the moderator wrote. 

It’s worth noting that RT.com was not singled out in any other way, apart from being enlisted. The moderator proposed to ban it as according to him, RT.com fell in the same category as the Daily Mail for providing “misleading/sensationalist/unreliable” content. Others, like the Huffington Post, Gawker and the Raw Story were labeled “Blog Spam.”  

Some users were outraged by the intended ban and totally decried it, with douglasmacarthur being forced to “put this project on hold until further notice.”

Reddit is one of the leading social networks. It works by allowing users to submit links from around the Internet, which other users then vote on. 

The American website, which was founded by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian in 2005, has 2.5 million registered users, called the “redditors,” and nearly 70 million unique visitors every month.