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Each year around this time, we share Reddit’s latest transparency report and a few highlights from our Legal team’s efforts to protect user privacy. This year, our annual post happens to coincide with one of the biggest national discussions of privacy online and the integrity of the platforms we use, so I wanted to share a more in-depth update in an effort to be as transparent with you all as possible.
First, here is our 2017 Transparency Report. This details government and law-enforcement requests for private information about our users. The types of requests we receive most often are subpoenas, court orders, search warrants, and emergency requests. We require all of these requests to be legally valid, and we push back against those we don’t consider legally justified. In 2017, we received significantly more requests to produce or preserve user account information. The percentage of requests we deemed to be legally valid, however, decreased slightly for both types of requests. (You’ll find a full breakdown of these stats, as well as non-governmental requests and DMCA takedown notices, in the report. You can find our transparency reports from previous years here.)
We also participated in a number of amicus briefs, joining other tech companies in support of issues we care about. In Hassell v. Bird and Yelp v. Superior Court (Montagna), we argued for the right to defend a user's speech and anonymity if the user is sued. And this year, we've advocated for upholding the net neutrality rules (County of Santa Clara v. FCC) and defending user anonymity against unmasking prior to a lawsuit (Glassdoor v. Andra Group, LP).
I’d also like to give an update to my last post about the investigation into Russian attempts to exploit Reddit. I’ve mentioned before that we’re cooperating with Congressional inquiries. In the spirit of transparency, we’re going to share with you what we shared with them earlier today:
In my post last month, I described that we had found and removed a few hundred accounts that were of suspected Russian Internet Research Agency origin. I’d like to share with you more fully what that means. At this point in our investigation, we have found 944 suspicious accounts, few of which had a visible impact on the site:
Of the 282 accounts with non-zero karma, more than half (145) were banned prior to the start of this investigation through our routine Trust & Safety practices. All of these bans took place before the 2016 election and in fact, all but 8 of them took place back in 2015. This general pattern also held for the accounts with significant karma: of the 13 accounts with 10,000+ karma, 6 had already been banned prior to our investigation—all of them before the 2016 election. Ultimately, we have seven accounts with significant karma scores that made it past our defenses.
And as I mentioned last time, our investigation did not find any election-related advertisements of the nature found on other platforms, through either our self-serve or managed advertisements. I also want to be very clear that none of the 944 users placed any ads on Reddit. We also did not detect any effective use of these accounts to engage in vote manipulation.
To give you more insight into our findings, here is a link to all 944 accounts. We have decided to keep them visible for now, but after a period of time the accounts and their content will be removed from Reddit. We are doing this to allow moderators, investigators, and all of you to see their account histories for yourselves.
We still have a lot of room to improve, and we intend to remain vigilant. Over the past several months, our teams have evaluated our site-wide protections against fraud and abuse to see where we can make those improvements. But I am pleased to say that these investigations have shown that the efforts of our Trust & Safety and Anti-Evil teams are working. It’s also a tremendous testament to the work of our moderators and the healthy skepticism of our communities, which make Reddit a difficult platform to manipulate.
We know the success of Reddit is dependent on your trust. We hope continue to build on that by communicating openly with you about these subjects, now and in the future. Thanks for reading. I’ll stick around for a bit to answer questions.
update: I'm off for now. Thanks for the questions!
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In the past couple of weeks, Reddit has been mentioned as one of the platforms used to promote Russian propaganda. As it’s an ongoing investigation, we have been relatively quiet on the topic publicly, which I know can be frustrating. While transparency is important, we also want to be careful to not tip our hand too much while we are investigating. We take the integrity of Reddit extremely seriously, both as the stewards of the site and as Americans.
Given the recent news, we’d like to share some of what we’ve learned:
When it comes to Russian influence on Reddit, there are three broad areas to discuss: ads, direct propaganda from Russians, indirect propaganda promoted by our users.
On the first topic, ads, there is not much to share. We don’t see a lot of ads from Russia, either before or after the 2016 election, and what we do see are mostly ads promoting spam and ICOs. Presently, ads from Russia are blocked entirely, and all ads on Reddit are reviewed by humans. Moreover, our ad policies prohibit content that depicts intolerant or overly contentious political or cultural views.
As for direct propaganda, that is, content from accounts we suspect are of Russian origin or content linking directly to known propaganda domains, we are doing our best to identify and remove it. We have found and removed a few hundred accounts, and of course, every account we find expands our search a little more. The vast majority of suspicious accounts we have found in the past months were banned back in 2015–2016 through our enhanced efforts to prevent abuse of the site generally.
The final case, indirect propaganda, is the most complex. For example, the Twitter account @TEN_GOP is now known to be a Russian agent. @TEN_GOP’s Tweets were amplified by thousands of Reddit users, and sadly, from everything we can tell, these users are mostly American, and appear to be unwittingly promoting Russian propaganda. I believe the biggest risk we face as Americans is our own ability to discern reality from nonsense, and this is a burden we all bear.
I wish there was a solution as simple as banning all propaganda, but it’s not that easy. Between truth and fiction are a thousand shades of grey. It’s up to all of us—Redditors, citizens, journalists—to work through these issues. It’s somewhat ironic, but I actually believe what we’re going through right now will actually reinvigorate Americans to be more vigilant, hold ourselves to higher standards of discourse, and fight back against propaganda, whether foreign or not.
Thank you for reading. While I know it’s frustrating that we don’t share everything we know publicly, I want to reiterate that we take these matters very seriously, and we are cooperating with congressional inquiries. We are growing more sophisticated by the day, and we remain open to suggestions and feedback for how we can improve.
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