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Saturday, October 16, 2021

The reinvention of Reddit


The reinvention of Reddit

Ellen Pao
Ellen Pao was interim chief executive of Reddit for just eight months.

The new chief executive of enormous community news and chat site Reddit will be a familiar name to its veteran users – Steve Huffman, aka Spez, co-founded it in 2005.

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Almost immediately he took part in an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on the site to discuss Reddit’s future with its 164m monthly users, known as Redditors, after a tumultous few months.

Reddit had been led by Ellen Pao, herself a controversial figure in Silicon Valley following a high profile gender discrimination case against a former employer, which she lost.

On Ms Pao’s watch a popular member of staff, AMA coordinator Victoria Taylor, was sacked, resulting in moderators bringing popular parts of the site to a standstill in protest.

Ellen Pao also oversaw the closure of five forums, known as subreddits, on the grounds of harrassment (one was called “fatpeoplehate”, which had 150,000 subscribers, while others encouraged homophobic or racist criticism) and faced accusations of censorship as a result.

Mr Huffman promised more transparent moderation of the website but ruled out reversing Ellen Pao’s decisions.

How did Reddit’s site users react to his appointment?

In keeping with the nature of the community, the online response to the site’s announcement was mixed.

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Some were delighted: “Welcome back Steve!” wrote EMC_trooper.

Some were wary: “If there’s a new CEO, but nothing’s different…then what? What changed?” asked IRushPeople.

Others were cynical: “Present new CEO as the solution everybody wants while probably keeping all the same people making actual decisions,” wrote RetardedSquirrel.

While some had helpful advice for the new boss to help him fit in: “every other Saturday, we all post pictures of ourselves in penguin costumes. It’s a thing now,” wrote Lolzergrush (it probably isn’t).

This may or may not be a Reddit “thing”.

Has Ellen Pao been made a scapegoat?

She was appointed in 2013 but Ms Pao was only actually in the post for eight months.

In that time she oversaw some very unpopular changes at the site. Could she possibly have been the architect of it all in such a short space of time?

“It’s hard to imagine she was, but responsibility flows up,” said Mr Huffman in his AMA.

He didn’t express any sympathy for his predecessor, however, despite her being subjected to a level of online abuse from some Redditors that board member Sam Altman branded “sickening”.

“I’m sure there will be times I’ve got to take it on the chin as well,” said Mr Huffman.

“Part of the gig.”

Will any of the controversially blocked subreddits be re-instated?

“Unlikely,” said Mr Huffman.

He went on to say that creating a “clear content policy” detailing exactly what would be considered unacceptable across the site was one of his biggest priorities.

He also outlined three definitive no-go subject areas:

  • Nothing illegal
  • Nothing that undermines the integrity of Reddit
  • Nothing that causes other individuals harm or to fear for their well-being

“In my opinion, FPH [the subreddit fatpeoplehate] crossed a line in that it was specifically hostile towards other Redditors.” he said.

“Harassment and bullying affect people dramatically in the real world, and we want Reddit to be a place where our users feel safe, or at least don’t feel threatened.”

Does this mean Reddit is going to start censoring content?

Censorship is perhaps a strong term. What Mr Huffman has committed to is a more transparent mode of operation, in which the site’s users might be able to see what has been removed, or why.

“[The moderators] can ban what they want, but I’d like to make it transparent what was actually banned. Some sort of ‘garbage can’ or something,” he wrote.

He added that he didn’t like seeing a “deleted” sign in place of a comment.

“I don’t care if it was deleted, I want to read it anyway,” he said.

What about people getting banned?

Some users complained they had been caught up in the site’s practice of “shadowbanning” – an attempt to get rid of spammers by banning accounts without warning.

Mr Huffman said it “sucks” but that moderators need better tools – and users need to behave themselves.

“Sometimes people do need to be banned, but it shouldn’t be a secret, and there should be an appeals process to undo it,” he said.

Will Victoria Taylor get her job back?

No.

“I know she was well-loved by many moderators, and I’m very sorry at how everything played out,” said Mr Huffman.

“It could have been handled much better. However, she was let go for specific reasons, which I obviously will not share, and we will stand by that decision.”

Ms Taylor herself took to the site to thank Redditors for their support.

“You can take the woman out of Reddit, but you can’t take the Reddit out of the woman,” she wrote defiantly.

A thousand duck-sized horses, or one horse-sized duck?

Duck-sized ducks.

No question, said Mr Huffman, in response to a query on the theme of an old internet meme.

“1000 duck-sized horses. Since they can’t climb stairs, you can easily get away from them long enough to figure out how to drown them.”

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