Reddit CEO Vows to Fight Racism on the Site, But Users Remain Doubtful

A 'gap between our content policy and our values has eroded our effectiveness in combating hate and racism,' says Reddit CEO Steve Huffman.
Reddit CEO Vows to Fight Racism on the Site, But Users Remain Doubtful
Image credit: Reddit via PC Mag

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This story originally appeared on PC Mag

Reddit is pledging to take a stronger stance on fighting racism on the social media platform, but not everyone is convinced the company is ready for meaningful change.  

The site made the announcement hours after Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from the company board, and urged remaining members to fill his seat with a black candidate. 

In a post on Friday, Reddit’s other co-founder and current CEO, Steve Huffman, said he plans to honor Ohanian’s request to pick a black candidate for the position. He also discussed how Reddit must own up and address the racism that has long circulated on the site. 

“Parts of Reddit reflect an unflattering but real resemblance to the world in the hate that Black users and communities see daily, despite the progress we have made in improving our tooling and enforcement,” Huffman wrote.

Compounding the problem is how “users and moderators genuinely do not have enough clarity as to where we as administrators stand on racism,” Huffman added. As Reddit’s CEO acknowledged, the company’s own content policy refrains from explicitly banning racist posts, only speech that incites violence or involves bullying someone. 

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman
Image credit: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

In response, Reddit says it will flesh out its acceptable content policy. The plan entails “including a vision for Reddit and its communities to aspire to, a statement on hate, the context for the rules, and a principle that Reddit isn’t to be used as a weapon,” Huffman said. 

The lack of details wasn't lost on users. "You made a big post about ‘goals’ without saying anything about how you'll achieve those goals or make any real impact. We've heard this all before, and talk is cheap,” one user commented on Huffman's post.

A Mea Culpa

Still, Reddit's CEO expressed some regrets over past company policies, including controversial remarks he's made on permitting racist comments in the name of free speech.

“In 2018, I confusingly said racism is not against the rules, but also isn’t welcome on Reddit. This gap between our content policy and our values has eroded our effectiveness in combating hate and racism on Reddit; I accept full responsibility for this,” he wrote.

In addition, Huffman addressed one of Reddit’s most controversial subforums, r/The_Donald, which is devoted to President Trump. For years, it's hosted racist content, anti-Muslim posts, and baseless conspiracy theories, prompting critics to call for its removal. But it was only last year when Reddit decided to “quarantine” r/The_Donald behind a warning page after users there began making a call to arms to protest authorities in the US Pacific Northwest. 

Reddit didn’t take action sooner because it was too focused on strictly following its content policies, Huffman said. “I fear we let being technically correct get in the way of doing the right thing. Clearly, we should have quarantined it sooner,” he added. 

In his defense, Huffman said Reddit has removed "thousands" of hateful communities in the past years. He then went on to say the company is committed to moving away from the status quo toward actual change. However, not everyone is buying his pledge. In the comment section to his post, many users are pointing to the company’s slow response to quarantining r/The_Donald as a prime example to Reddit's failure to act.

“It flourished for years while you and the rest of the decision makers were too cowardly to do the right thing,” wrote one user. “The real-world damage that community has caused lays partially at your feet. You could have stopped them years ago and chose not to.”

Others say Reddit is still trying to delegate cleaning up hate speech to volunteer moderators across the various subforums rather taking action itself. "I can't believe you typed out this entire post to just say absolutely nothing at all," added another user.

As for r/The_Donald, the subforum remains up. However, it now recommends users visit an independent site free of Reddit's content moderating. "3 months off reddit and we're still living rent fREEEE in their heads," says the top post on the site.

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