Users of troubled social media website Reddit.com have created a petition calling for CEO Steve Huffman’s resignation after he admitted to replacing his name in user comments in the /r/The_Donald subreddit.
The controversy came after heated exchanges in the popular subreddit including highly critical posts about Huffman. Rather than responding in a courteous and professional way Huffman edited posts such that references to his user account /u/spez (archive here) were replaced with references to the moderators of the subreddit.
The controversy blew up against a backdrop of the early departure of previous CEO Ellen Pao, who had resigned after allegedly making a series of unpopular decisions and intense criticism from users. After Pao’s resignation, news sites reported that the decisions had in fact been taken by Alex Ohanian (archive here), one of the co-founders of Reddit. After Pao’s resignation, Huffman and Ohanian endorsed her decisions and took responsibility for them.
At the time, another former CEO Yishan Wong had harsh words for the company, Ohanian and Huffman, saying that – “just sat back and let [Pao] take the heat. That’s a stunning lack of leadership and an incredibly shitty thing to do”. Certainly the company’s poor track record with retaining senior executives is unlikely to enthuse investors.
Many feel that the site has failed to tackle harassment and has shown erratic and often unfair enforcement of its rules. On a personal level this year my use of Reddit fell to almost nothing, and my account was suspended permanently without warning after I suggested I might write an article about a professional model who had engaged in discriminatory behaviour online.
I had not provided any details of the model, aside from her name. I had said I would contact her PR agency (without naming it) but of course giving the subject an opportunity to respond is not more than ethical journalistic practice.
On challenging the decision I received a response from Reddit Lawyer Philippe Beaudette, upholding the decision without giving any explanation. Beaudette used to be Wikipedia’s lawyer, and was in fact their legal advisor during several extremely damaging scandals. His actions in this case seemed pointlessly arrogant – I had not even threatened to sue Reddit so there was not much point replying if they did not intend to explain their reasoning.
Shortly before Beaudette departed Wikipedia in September 2015 a Wikipedia Functionary falsely accused Conservative MP Grant Shapps of editing his own article using a sock-puppet leading to his dismissal from the Cabinet. Whilst the error was eventually corrected, this did not occur until after the election.
On a personal level I see no reason not to sign the petition and I urge everyone who reads this to do so here. More importantly though, I urge users to Voat with their feat and head over to Reddit’s near identical rival Voat. Whilst Voat has its own flaws – in particular stability issues as its users base grows – it has a better reputation for free speech and transparency.
This time Reddit has no scapegoat – no convenient victim from a minority to take the fall for Huffman’s deeply unprofessional actions. This time the true character of Steve Huffman is on the record for all to see.
In a statement on Reddit, Huffman said,
Yep. I messed with the “fuck u/spez” comments, replacing “spez” with r/the_donald mods for about an hour. It’s been a long week here trying to unwind the r/pizzagate stuff. As much as we try to maintain a good relationship with you all, it does get old getting called a pedophile constantly. As the CEO, I shouldn’t play such games, and it’s all fixed now. Our community team is pretty pissed at me, so I most assuredly won’t do this again.