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How Shoplifting Reddit Got Banned

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While freezing communities that sell sex, guns, drugs, Reddit also took down its shoplifting discussion boards.

A red studded bag sits behind glass.
Bags displayed in the window of a store in New York City this winter.
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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On Wednesday, the Senate passed the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), a controversial piece of legislation that holds websites responsible for any sex trafficking content that lives on their pages. FOSTA, also known as the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), does so by amending Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which limited websites’ liability for user generated content.

That same day, Reddit introduced a policy banning the solicitation and sale of paid sexual acts, along with a number of other goods and services: firearms, ammunition, explosives, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, personal information, falsified documents and currency, and stolen items. Reddit, which counts Condé Nast parent company Advance Publications as a stakeholder, didn’t specifically mention FOSTA in its community post about the changes, but the new rules certainly account for it. Craigslist also removed its “Personals” section yesterday, and explicitly cited FOSTA as its reason for doing so. Meanwhile, Reddit’s prohibition of firearm sales comes at a time when many corporations are cutting ties with the NRA and rethinking their own gun sales.

For the most part, Reddit’s changes focus on transactions, but it also resulted in the demise of the “Shoplifting” subreddit, which was banned a day ago, according to the website. As The Next Web described it not too long ago, “The subreddit’s raison d’être is to talk about stealing stuff, ways of stealing stuff, and places to go where you may most easily steal stuff.” It’s similar to Liftblr, a Tumblr community populated by people who like to shoplift and talk about it, many of them young women with anti-capitalist leanings. (We reached out to Tumblr about whether it will be changing its own rules around shoplifting-dedicated blogs and will update when we hear back.)

The distinction between r/shoplifting and Reddit’s other newly banned communities is that it’s about discussing stealing goods, not buying and selling stolen goods. This doesn’t just mark a shift in the rules of online commerce; consumer culture’s online persona has to change, too. Or at least find a different platform.

A rep for Reddit, responding to my inquiry about the reason for barring r/shoplifting, provided the following statement:

As of March 21, 2018, we have made a new addition to our content policy forbidding transactions for certain classes of goods and services. Moving forward, we are prohibiting transactions that are either illicit or strictly controlled. Communities focused on such transactions and users who attempt to conduct them will be banned from the site.