Reddit co-founder resigns from board as company grapples with history of hate on its site
Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigned from the company's board on Friday as a form of protest, and his departure shined a light on the platform's shortcomings when it comes to addressing hate speech.
Ohanian gave an emotional farewell to Reddit in a video and written statement. Ohanian called for Reddit to appoint a black leader to fill his seat. "I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now," Ohanian wrote. "To everyone fighting to fix our broken nation: do not stop."
Ohanian is taking a stand in the ongoing racial justice protests that have spread across the country since the death of George Floyd last week. Four Minneapolis police officers were charged in his murder. The ensuing dialog has forced many companies to do more to fight racism in society and within their own companies.
On Friday, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman acknowledged the company's deficiencies in dealing with racist content. Reddit is known as a site where users control thousands of communities dedicated to topics like politics, pets, sports and movies. There also have been communities where hate speech proliferated.
Huffman said the company would respect Ohanian's recommendation to appoint a black leader in his place.
Ohanian pledged $1 million to Colin Kaepernick's Know Your Rights Camp. He also pledged to use "future gains" from his Reddit stock to support black causes.
Tech companies have been speaking out all week to express solidarity with the protesters across the country marching for George Floyd. Pinterest, Snapchat and Twitter CEOs spoke out and donated money to racial justice groups.
The protests have forced tech companies to reconsider their responsibility to deal with harmful speech. Twitter and Snapchat, for instance, penalized Trump’s accounts for suggesting a violent response to protesters. The president has been in an open confrontation with tech platforms, demanding they not interfere with his messages or the messages of his followers.
Huffman said that Reddit would take a more active role to moderate conversations on the service. "As Reddit has grown, alongside much good, it is facing its own challenges around hate and racism," Huffman wrote on Friday. "We have to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the role we have played."
Reddit's problems in policing its own service made it difficult for the CEO to address the concerns of his employees, Huffman said. "I wrote an email to our company addressing this crisis and a few ways Reddit will respond," Huffman said. "When we shared it, many of the responses said something like, 'How can a company that has faced racism from users on its own platform over the years credibly take such a position?'"
Huffman said Reddit was taking a greater look at its policies and methods of censoring hateful speech. He highlighted how Reddit had neutralized "The Donald," which is a community devoted to President Trump. The community was allowed to linger for years despite there being ample evidence that many of its users spread messages of hate.
Last year, Reddit began punishing "The Donald" by putting it under a quarantine that limited access to its discussion boards. Huffman acknowledged it was late to act, though. "I fear we let being technically correct get in the way of doing the right thing," Huffman said. "Clearly, we should have quarantined it sooner."
Ohanian was not immediately available for comment on the significance of his departure. Ohanian is married to tennis legend Serena Williams, with whom he has a daughter.
"I co-founded Reddit 15 years ago to help people find community and a sense of belonging," Ohanian wrote. "It is long overdue to do the right thing. I’m doing this for me, for my family, and for my country. I’m writing this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: 'What did you do?'"