Abuse of power?
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman apologized earlier this week for altering comments in a pro-Donald Trump subreddit, saying in a statement that he had “abused” his power.
Huffman, also a Reddit co-founder, admitted that he secretly had been editing user comments about him in the popular, pro-Trump subreddit r/The_Donald, swapping out his own name in negative comments with those of the pro-Trump group’s leaders. While some users took the swapped names as a joke and commended Huffman for the humor, others saw it as a betrayal of Reddit’s community standards, and an abuse of his power as CEO.
The official statement
In a statement shared on Wednesday, Huffman explained his rationale and formally apologized for the actions:
“As much as we try to maintain a good relationship with you all, it does get old getting called a pedophile constantly,” Huffman wrote. “I am sorry for compromising the trust you all have in Reddit, and I am sorry to those that I created work and stress for, particularly over the holidays.”
Huffman also says all the altered comments have been returned to their original states.
Reddit’s tough year
Huffman took the role of CEO in July of this year, replacing Ellen Pao, whose time in the role was chock-full of controversy. A petition calling for her removal reached over 200,000 signatures after Reddit users felt she was mistreating the site’s administrators. Huffman was initially welcomed with optimism by the site’s users, but this incident raised alarm.
Huffman’s apology came as Reddit was just wrapping up another Trump-related controversy, following the decision to shut down a subreddit devoted to “pizzagate” — the claim that there is secret child sex-trafficking ring run by prominent Democrats, which led to the recent gun shots fired by a North Carolina man in the very pizzeria the subreddit named. Despite the theory having been debunked by The New York Times and others, fans of the subreddit felt the company overstepped it’s boundary’s by removing the popular feed.
Changes to Reddit?
Reddit will certainly face several tough decisions in the coming months, both in response to Huffman’s actions directly, but also as they continue to work to monitor fake news on the site while maintaining their core values. Reddit reworked their front-page algorithm earlier this year to “promote more diversity in the feed,” another step that some users felt was a direct response to the rise in pro-Trump discourse on the site.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Huffman acknowledged that his trolling of r/The_Donald may have set a bad precedent that “could hurt user’s trust in the site.” Huffman said Reddit is planning to take a “proactive approach” to preventing bad behavior on the site, including taking direct action to curb its most toxic users. This will include warnings as well as permanent bans, and potentially banning a full community if the situation does not improve.
For now, no timeline or fully laid-out plan has been introduced, but as calls for Huffman to step-down following this controversy continue, it will certainly be a long road ahead.