Social media powerhouse Reddit.com was at the eye of a storm of criticism from its users Thursday morning after the controversial "fatpeoplehate" discussion forum and four others were banned from the site by its own administrators.
The site, owned by publishers Condé Nast and billing itself as "the frontpage of the Internet," depends on its visitors -- which averaged 172 million in May -- to effectively decide its output by visiting various user-generated forums.
The ban, the site's administrators said, came after the discussion forums broke "reddit rules based on their harassment of individuals."
The fatpeoplehate discussion group, which targeted overweight individuals with taunting jeers online, was the only forum that had more than 5,000 registered users.
Other banned forums targeted transvestite and gay individuals.
"I really don't care what you think," said Stephen Williams, 40, an overweight video blogger who was targeted by fatpeoplehate. "The amount of damage that you've done to other people of size who are already fragile and having trouble in their lives, I think it's kind of gross," he said.
He addressed the group in a video saying the "only thing I hope is that your mind, opinion, and heart broadens and changes one day."
Yet he called the ban "controversial" and said it is a "half-measure" because "there are plenty of harassment [sub forums] that are leftover." He targeted a forum called "CoonTown" as an example. "How could they have missed this?" he asked.
The site works based on users voting up or down links to content users submit to the site — pushing it high or low on a list viewed by other users. It can be customized and is divided in subforums, or "subreddits," which deal with niche topics such as woodworking, weightlifting, and even widgets.
Roughly four posts on the site's homepage seen by all users referred to the controversy Thursday afternoon.
Past bans on the site include /r/jailbait, which featured photos of prepubescent girls in skimpy clothing posted by users.
People such as Julian Assange have spoken out about censorship on the site in the past after it appeared that a user was banned as Assange fielded questions from users during an online discussion last year.
Apart from Williams, who uses the handle boogie2988, there was a mixed response to the ban from users who posted gifs and pictures illustrating their feelings.
"I am surprised so many people are mad," wrote fatfatninja, "it doesn't effect me." Another user, Chirimorin, said they "couldn't care less if subs dedicated to discrimination get banned."
User iMini wrote that "Here in the UK we don't have 100% free speech, we actively arrest people for hate speech." But "it's the idea that they arbitrarily decide which ideas and subs are offensive," wrote SrSkippy.
The sub forum "CoonTown," which Williams referred to, responded to the other bans by voting a "R.I.P. in Peace, r/fatpeoplehate" message to the top of its page.
Reddit spokesperson Heather Wilson said the site wants to take a "step-by-step approach to ensure that the changes were working."
She added that "the Internet is an evolving medium and presents a number of challenges at scale, and we're learning and hopefully improving our place in it." The site's ultimate goal, Wilson continued, is "to encourage authentic conversations and idea-sharing on an open platform with many voices participating."
But when it comes down to it, Reddit administrators wrote on the site, they will step in when needed "to prevent harassment."
Note: This post has been altered to include a comment from Reddit spokesperson Heather Wilson.