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Reddit Isn’t Backing Down On Anti-Harassment Policy

CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS, THINKPROGRESS
CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS, THINKPROGRESS

Reddit has been on an emotional roller coaster for the past few months, fending off backlash from introducing new unfavorable policies to recently losing three executive employees — including ousted interim CEO Ellen Pao over the weekend.

But the ride isn’t over: Newly appointed Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman declared in a statement Tuesday that, despite internal turmoil, the anti-harassment policies Pao introduced in May would stand, that some forums on Reddit “should not be here at all,” and the Reddit isn’t a “bastion of free speech” but a place for open discussion.

There has been a lot of discussion lately — on Reddit, in the news, and here internally — about Reddit’s policy on the more offensive and obscene content on our platform. Our top priority at Reddit is to develop a comprehensive Content Policy and the tools to enforce it.

The overwhelming majority of content on Reddit comes from wonderful, creative, funny, smart, and silly communities. 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. And we also believe that some communities currently on the platform should not be here at all.

Neither Alexis nor I created Reddit to be a bastion of free speech, but rather as a place where open and honest discussion can happen: These are very complicated issues, and we are putting a lot of thought into it. It’s something we’ve been thinking about for quite some time. We haven’t had the tools to enforce policy, but now we’re building those tools and reevaluating our policy.

Huffman added that he will host a “Ask Me Anything” forum Thursday so he can answer community questions concerning recent events. “We as a community need to decide together what our values are. To that end, I’ll be hosting an AMA on Thursday 1 p.m. PST to present our current thinking to you, the community, and solicit your feedback.”

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Huffman’s statement follows three prominent executives’ departures all tinged with controversy. Chief engineer Bethanye Blount quit this week after working at Reddit for only two months. Blount’s resignation occurred just days from that of interim CEO Ellen Pao, who left after community pressure for her termination mounted in recent weeks. During an interview, Blount told Recode that her quitting wasn’t related to Pao’s exit, but like her she had differing views of the company’s future direction.

Upon her resignation, Pao said a differing opinion with the company’s board on user growth and future direction was at the root of a mutual agreement to leave her post. Pao’s exit also came as an infuriated Reddit community blamed her for the mysterious and seemingly tactless firing of Victoria Taylor, the company’s talent director. Taylor, who coordinated Reddit’s popular Ask Me Anything forum, was suddenly fired in early July, causing site-wide protests and renewed objections to Pao’s leadership.

Details of Taylor’s firing are only beginning to emerge, but are still murky nearly two weeks later. Pao’s predecessor and former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong wrote a post attributing Taylor’s firing to company restructuring at the hands of site co-founder Alexis Ohanian: “He had different ideas for AMAs, he didn’t like Victoria’s role, and decided to fire her.”

Internal struggles aside, Huffman’s declaration aligns with a growing movement among social media platforms to manage online harassment while balancing the ideals of free expression. Huffman made the point — like Pao did before him — that policies banning abusive behavior are needed to foster “honest discussion.” After years of public backlash, sites such as Twitter and Facebook have begun implementing measures to weed out abusive behavior, and make it easier for users to report harassment — a move that’s proved to be divisive undertaking for Reddit.