Culture

Reddit CEO Caught Editing User Comments in Trump Subreddit

Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit, was caught “reddit-handed” altering user comments attacking him in the pro-Trump subreddit “The_Donald.” The site, which tries to portray itself as a hub for democratically curated social news aggregation, has been embroiled in controversy over the pro-Trump site over the past year.

[Language warning ahead]

According to Gizmodo, “Reddit’s Donald Trump community (r/the_donald) has been a constant source of strife for users and moderators alike.” Huffman, whose pseudonym on the site is “u/spez,” was the recipient of non-stop abusive comments (“fuck u/spez” or “u/spez is a cuck” were the most common). Eventually, he got to a point where he couldn’t take it anymore and began to edit comments about himself without users’ knowledge or consent.

Only he didn’t cover his tracks very well. Donald Trump community members discovered the discrepancy and outed him:

The Admins are suffering from low energy – have resorted to editing YOUR posts. Sad!

They posted links to the edited posts and screenshots of the alterations (hosted on another site, just in case).

Once confronted, Huffman admitted what he had done and tried to explain what had prompted the editing spree:

Hey Everyone,

Yep. I messed with the “fuck u/spez” comments. 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. As the CEO, I shouldn’t play such games, and it’s all fixed now. Our community team is pretty pissed at me, so I most assuredly won’t do this again.

Fuck u/spez.

That might have been the end of it (ok, we all know that’s not true), but then someone leaked a Slack chat that occurred between Reddit moderators. From Gizmodo:

Though the comments have since been restored following the debacle, a user named UnimatrixZeroOne leaked a series of Slack chatlogs exchanged between Huffman and a variety of veteran moderators and site admins “out of anger.” It’s natural to question the authenticity of these chatlogs, though Unimatrix apologized to other moderators in a locked subreddit for moderators only after the leak. Not to mention, a log of this scope would be difficult to fabricate.

The chats reveal that Huffman had turned off notifications long ago, which means he wasn’t seeing any of the_donald’s abuse in the first place. “If you mod politics [a default subreddit and perennial target for the_donald] you should be having an aneurysm ten times what I’m feeling,” wrote pomosexuality, “because spez didnt give two shits about you being trolled for literal months.” “Outright threatened on multiple occasions,” optimalg chimed in.

Huffman finally entered the chat with the words “bring back pao ” a reference to interim CEO Ellen Pao who despite—or more likely because of—her attempts to rid the site of abuse made her a target for abuse, and was eventually forced out of the company.

Some of the moderators feel like the rules are being enforced inconsistently. Others are so fed up they’re close to leaving Reddit altogether.

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If true, this is no joking matter:

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“Doxxing” is when someone maliciously publishes an individual’s personal information on the Internet.

Next page: Was this an attack on free speech or a legitimate response to harassment?

“Our mission is to help people discover places where they can be their true selves, and empower our community to flourish,” the “about” section of Reddit claims. As anyone who has ever read an Internet comments section knows, people’s “true selves” are sometimes cruel, foul-mouthed, and twisted.

The truth is we’re talking about a private company here that has the right to moderate anything and everything they want in order to create the type of community they think the majority of users will enjoy. They’re not going to be able to please everyone. Reddit has anti-harassment rules that were clearly being violated by the repetitive attacks on Huffman:

We do not tolerate the harassment of people on our site, nor do we tolerate communities dedicated to fostering harassing behavior.

Harassment on Reddit is defined as systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person conclude that reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation, or fear for their safety or the safety of those around them.

Being annoying, vote brigading, or participating in a heated argument is not harassment, but following an individual or group of users, online or off, to the point where they no longer feel that it’s safe to post online or are in fear of their real life safety is.

Reddit had every right to delete and alter [see note below] some of these comments. It probably wasn’t a great idea (from a PR perspective) for Huffman to have his fingerprints all over the moderation, but again, this is a private company, not some government crackdown on the First Amendment.

If you spend time in the comments section at PJM you’ll notice that we allow users with Disqus accounts to “flag” inappropriate comments. After a certain number of complaints a comment goes to moderation and is hidden from users until a moderator can evaluate the appropriateness. Generally, we’ll delete threatening comments, inappropriate sexual content, and repeated personal attacks on individuals, but we try to keep a light touch even when the debates are heated. It’s a partnership between our readers and editors, but we do end up having the final word.

Our goal at PJM is to give a great user experience to as many users as possible. Obviously, we’re never going to please everyone, but we try to strike a balance that neither stifles discussion nor sends readers fleeing in revulsion. It’s a process we’re constantly evaluating (we do read your comments!) and Reddit is likely doing the same for their users.

NOTE: I originally wrote: “Reddit had every right to delete and alter some of these comments.” This was simply a case of me writing faster than I was thinking on Sunday. I absolutely do not support alteration of anyone’s comments. As a writer and editor I understand how important it is to allow everyone to speak in his or her own words without the filter of a moderator. At PJM we DO NOT alter anyone’s words EVER. Comments that are reported as inappropriate are sent to the moderator where they are either deleted or restored without editing. Sorry for any confusion my careless word may have caused.