Free speech threads get tangled up again.
Reddit chief executive Steve Huffman is finding himself in a little bit of hot water after he revealed that he modified comments that were aimed at him and were posted in a subreddit. He acknowledged that it was a mistake and claimed that whatever changes he had made were now fixed.
“Our community team is pretty pissed at me, so I most assuredly won’t do this again,” he wrote in an apology post.
The disclosure comes just hours after Reddit banned the Pizzagate subreddit, where users discussed a conspiracy that alleged Bill and Hillary Clinton were part of a secret pedophile ring.
However, other users decided to troll Huffman and incite a rumor alleging he was a pedophile. This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and prompted Huffman to take action.
“Yep. I messed with the ‘fuck u/spez‘ comments, replacing ‘spez’ with r/the donald mods for about an hour,” he said. “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.”
Naturally, Huffman’s mea culpa has done little to bring peace to the land of Reddit, with users replying to his apology by claiming that it has cost the service the trust of its users. One account holder claimed that “You have literally, in that petty act, destroyed the credibility of Reddit. Any article that quotes a user post, uncredible [sic]. For all people know here, we are all now in danger of the admins throwing child porn into one of our histories, and endangering us.”
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Another user echoed the sentiments, saying “This is not a the_donald thing anymore. This should infuriate and concern EVERY SINGLE USER FROM EVERY SINGLE SUB. Falsifying content. CEO ethics violations.”
On the one hand, it’s possible to empathize with Huffman’s actions, because everyone has their breaking point. However, the reputation of Reddit is also at stake, especially because he is the CEO. The company’s community team has every right to be angry at him, as this incident will definitely impact how users view moderators and administrators for some time and it raises the question of whether there’s really free speech on the site.
Oddly, Huffman’s choice to intervene ran contrary to his own ideology. In an interview with Inc., the cofounder of Reddit stated: “We’ve created this whole new and very efficient way of communicating and sharing ideas. It’s not just controlled by a couple gatekeepers.”
Reddit may be a place where people can freely exchange ideas, but it’s not been entirely idyllic. The message board-style service has been a gathering place for all sorts of discussions, including some that cross into very ugly territory. Huffman declared in 2015 that “the concept of free speech is important to [Reddit], but completely unfettered free speech can cause harm to others and additionally silence others, which is what we’ll continue to address.” Hopefully, this experience shows him that there’s much more to work on.
VentureBeat reached out to Reddit to see if the company has any additional comment.
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