Reddit’s new chief executive Steve Huffman has promised to reconsider the online communities policies “from first principles” but defended many recent changes as he tries to rebuild its reputation.
Huffman returned to the company he co-founded last week, taking over the role from outgoing boss Ellen Pao.
In his first Ask Me Anything (AMA) online question-and-answer session since returning, he outlined his priorities as chief executive while also explaining that some of Pao’s controversial decisions will not be reversed.
“I know we have a lot of work to do. One of my first priorities is to re-establish a relationship with the community,” wrote Huffman.
That includes defusing the testy relationship between Reddit’s own staff and its community of voluntary moderators (mods), following the recent row when some of Reddit’s most popular subreddits were shut down by their mods.
“An adversarial relationship with the mods is the opposite of what we want,” wrote Huffman, promising to build a team of community managers to improve the relationship.
However, Huffman was careful not to criticise Pao, who had become a lightning rod for criticism within Reddit’s community, for changes made during her time as CEO.
“We will reconsider all our policies from first principles. I don’t know all of the changes that were made under Ellen’s tenure. I’m mostly still getting to know everyone here,” wrote Huffman.
He went on to thank Pao – “she stepped up at a time of crisis for Reddit, for which we were thankful” – while explaining that some of her most controversial changes will not be reversed.
For example, subreddits like r/fatpeoplehate that were banned in June are not scheduled to return under Huffman’s leadership.
“Unlikely. Creating a clear content policy is another of my immediate priorities. We will make it very clear what is and is not acceptable behaviour on Reddit,” he wrote.
Huffman outlined a three-pronged policy that is likely to guide Reddit’s policies: nothing illegal; nothing that “undermines the integrity of Reddit”; and nothing that “causes other individuals harm or to fear for their wellbeing”.
He added that FatPeopleHate fell foul of the latter tenet, since it was “specifically hostile” towards other users of Reddit.
“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,” he wrote.
However, Huffman intends to improve Reddit’s transparency around content that has been censored or banned on its network.
“We want to keep Reddit as open as possible, and when we have to ban something, I want it to be very transparent that it was done and what our reasoning was,” he wrote.
“I think mods should be able to moderate, but there should also be some mechanism to see what was removed. It doesn’t have to be easy, but it shouldn’t be impossible,” he wrote, later returning to the question.
“They can ban what they want, but I’d like to make it transparent what was actually banned. Some sort of ‘garbage can’ or something.”
Huffman said Reddit will not re-hire Victoria Taylor, Reddit’s former director of communications, whose departure earlier in the month sparked the subreddits shutdown in protest.
“No. I know she was well-loved by many moderators, and I’m very sorry at how everything played out. It could have been handled much better,” wrote Huffman.
“However, she was let go for specific reasons, which I obviously will not share, and we will stand by that decision.”
Instead, Reddit is planning to hire a team to “help manage the relationships between moderators and guests”, taking over the role held by Taylor before she was sacked.
Huffman gave short shrift to a question about whether Reddit feels threatened by rival Voat, which saw its traffic rise sharply during the recent turmoil.
Asked whether Voat could do to Reddit what Reddit did to another online community, Digg, several years ago, Huffman disagreed: “Reddit had better technology than Digg. I don’t think Voat has better technology than Reddit”.
Huffman intends to fend off any such threats by making Reddit more accessible to newcomers, while striving not to alienate its core community.
“I think the new user/core user dichotomy is the biggest product challenge we face right now,” wrote Huffman. “Solve it, and we are unstoppable.”
Even mutant animal-hybrids won’t stand in his way. Faced with a familiar meme-question from one user – would he rather fight 1,000 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck – Huffman gave a confident answer.
“1,000 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.”
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Monday 13th July 2015 11.32 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010