On the heels of the departure of CEO Ellen Pao last week and its chief engineer shortly thereafter, Reddit’s top executive has now said the site is not about free speech.
The company’s interim CEO, Steve Huffman, flatly told users in a post on the site on Tuesday evening that Reddit does not have “an obligation” to support all Reddit communities. Huffman’s post came after days of uncertainty about the company’s direction following Pao’s apology and subsequent resignation.
“The overwhelming majority of content on reddit comes from wonderful, creative, funny, smart, and silly communities,” Huffman wrote. “That is what makes reddit great. There is also a dark side, communities whose purpose is reprehensible, and we don’t have any obligation to support them.”
Founders Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, who has been notable in his absence in discussions covering Pao’s departure, have seen the site stray from its original mission. Huffman said: “Neither Alexis nor I created reddit to be a bastion of free speech.”
That might come as a shock to the less reputable section of the site’s huge user base, which posts everything from neo-Nazi rhetoric to detailed descriptions of rape to encyclopedic collections of corpse images.
For a long time, Reddit has fought on behalf of those users and their right to post whatever they want so long as it does not directly break any laws. Internally, there have been brief periods when individual subreddits were punished for misbehaving – though this was mostly for posting legally protected information or child abuse images, or for violating internal codes of conduct.
But Reddit has also had to contend with users who are not content simply to post within their communities, and who have subjected others on the site, notably Pao, to seemingly unending abuse.
Huffman has promised Redditors, as the site’s users are called, an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Thursday, when he will presumably unveil what users have clamored for and dreaded in equal measure: a firm policy detailing what is and isn’t acceptable beyond the deliberately simple Rules of Reddit.
A top comment on the post was succinct: “This will go either very well or very, very badly,” wrote user Shadowfirelance. (Most who replied said they’d put their money on the latter.)
“Our top priority at reddit is to develop a comprehensive Content Policy and the tools to enforce it,” Huffman wrote, saying he wouldn’t be available in the comments that evening.
Reddit’s moderators often oversee subreddits that are presumably objectionable (r/watchpeopledie, r/drunkgirls) and subreddits that are popular and G-rated (r/television, r/aww).
For years, it’s been taken for granted that Reddit, which has never publicly defined hate speech or obscenity, can’t survive without users who post hateful or obscene content.
It appears that it’s on the verge of finding out.
This article was written by Sam Thielman in New York, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 15th July 2015 00.38 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010