- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Digital censorship is exploding on Reddit not only because of its policies about offensive speech, but also due to a surge in copyright complaints, a study has found.

Skyrocketing copyright complaints have caused a more than 15,000% increase in takedowns on the social media website over a five-year period, according to an analysis from copyright-focused outlet TorrentFreak.

Reddit transparency reports show it removed 665,898 pieces of content in 2021 in response to copyright complaints, up from 4,352 removals in 2017.

In 2014, Reddit made just 66 removals in response to copyright complaints, according to its 2014 transparency report.

TorrentFreak’s Ernesto Van der Sar wrote that the soaring number of copyright removals subject to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was previously unimaginable. He said it’s an indication of the billions of pieces of user-generated content on the site.

“All in all, it’s clear that Reddit has its hands full complying with DMCA takedown notices,” Mr. Van der Sar wrote on TorrentFreak’s website on Sunday. 

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Social media companies’ censorship actions are generally protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but not under the copyright act.

Section 230 provides platforms with immunity from lawsuits over content posted by users on the platforms. But under the DMCA rules, a platform may quickly be held liable for damages corresponding to every time someone accesses the copyrighted material on the platform.

The problems associated with hosting violative and offensive content have prompted tech platforms to develop automated moderators to enforce copyright rules and censorship policies governing speech. For example, automated tools were responsible for more than 100 million removals on Reddit last year, representing a majority, 58.9%, of the content taken down, according to Reddit.

Reddit updated its censorship practices before the 2020 election to address “hate based on identity or vulnerability” and it garnered attention for removing subreddit forums r/The_Donald, which was popular with former President Donald Trump’s supporters, and r/ChapoTrapHouse, which had liberal fans.

Prior to removing content and banning users, Reddit lists its enforcement mechanisms as including “asking you nicely to knock it off” and “asking you less nicely” before imposing restrictions and suspensions.

“Content moderation on Reddit happens through a layered, community-driven approach,” Reddit said in its Transparency Report 2021. “This approach is akin to a democracy, wherein everyone has the ability to vote and self-organize, follow a set of common rules, establish community-specific norms, and ultimately share some responsibility for how the platform works.”

Reddit did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the growth of its copyright takedowns.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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