Dozens of subreddits, totalling a reach of tens of millions of users, have gone private earlier this week in order to protest against Reddit’s COVID misinformation policy. The platform has been accused of refusing to delete subreddits dedicated to spreading conspiracy theories about the pandemic and vaccines, with r/NoNewNormal and r/conspiracy being specifically named.
Some of the subreddits under protest include r/PokemonGo, r/childfree, and many more with over one million subscribers each, while two with 10 million or more subscribers, r/Futurology and r/TIFU, have joined the coordinated effort. The r/TIFU subreddit says “it is closed until the Reddit administration removes /r/NoNewNormal and other vaccine misinformation subreddits from the platform. We cannot remain open and also keep our consciences clear.”
Meanwhile, moderators of r/PokemonGo posted a message saying that COVID directly impacts gamers “because Go is played outside in real life with others… we will stay private until NoNewNormal and similar subs dedicated entirely to misinformation are banned.” When a subreddit goes private, it is completely inaccessible to those who are not already members.
Last week, over 450 moderators of subreddits penned an open-letter urging Reddit to “take action against the rampant Coronavirus misinformation on their website,” saying that certain subreddits exist “solely to spread medical disinformation and undermine efforts to combat the global pandemic should be banned.” The letter demanded more active involvement in preventing the spread of pandemic disinformation and for the platform to take responsibility.
In response, Reddit defended its stance by saying that it must allow dissent during discussions and debates as it is “the foundation of democracy.” Reddit specifically pointed out that disagreeing with the CDC does not violate the site’s policies. This actually comes a few weeks after the site quarantined r/NoNewNormal, a subreddit that is strongly anti-mask and anti-vaccine. Quarantining removes its contents from public feeds and requires users to opt-in, but this means that it is still up with more than 124,000 members.