Say what you want about Reddit‘s r/technology, one of its most popular forums. Just don’t say “NSA,” “net neutrality,” “Comcast,” “Bitcoin,” or any of the roughly 50 other words that will secretly get your post deleted.
There’s a bot in r/technology, ready to delete any so-called controversial headline you try to submit.
In July, Reddit dropped two controversial subreddits, r/atheism and r/politics, from being automatic subscriptions for new users. Given redditors’ frequent complaints about overzealous moderators, r/technology, which boasts more than 5 million subscribers, could be considered their heir as the subreddit everybody loves to complain about.
As such, an intrepid redditor, creq, put together a list of words he found were suspiciously underrepresented on the subreddit. Almost all of them have at least two qualities: they’re commonly found in the intersection of technology and politics, and they can be seen as controversial, or at least likely to inspire anger in a few people.
Another redditor, SamSlate, created a number of graphs showing how often headlines with the acronym “NSA” appear on r/technology. This graph below shows the frequency of “NSA” in r/technology headlines over the past year. The dense chunk in the middle spans June through August of last year, the months during which the intial reports on top-secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden appeared online. The cutoff is clear:
A blanket ban on certain words in headlines may do r/technology subscribers a disservice. After all, “newsworthy” and “controversial” tend to dovetail together; why wouldn’t people interested in technology read about Bitcoin? About Senator Ron Wyden, likely the most dedicated defender of Internet freedom in Congress? About Internet service providers like Comcast and Time Warner?
One moderator at r/technology, agentlame, confirmed to the Daily Dot that, like most subreddits, his uses a bot to automatically filter posts containing words moderators would likely delete manually if they had the time. He said their general rule was to ban headlines with politicized words.
“We don’t have enough active mods and posts that break our rules can make it to the front page in less than an hour,” agentlame said. “So we’re stuck using a bot.”
However, though creq’s methodology looks sound—he said he spent six or seven hours guessing at banned words, and seeing what didn’t come up in searches—agentlame said creq’s list isn’t “entirely correct.”
Neither agentlame nor any other r/technology mods have yet responded with what’s wrong with a corrected list, however. We’ll update if they do.
Here is the list of some of the filtered words:
- Restore the Fourth (never shows up at all)
- Time Warner
- net neutrality
- National Security Agency