Reddit Users to CEO: Root Out Racism on the Platform Once and for All

Site rules leave many decisions about what's acceptable up to volunteer moderators

Photo of Reddit CEO Steve Huffman
A coalition of Reddit users want CEO Steve Huffman to clean up the site. Reddit
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Key insights:

Reddit users want the site to do more to root out racism and hate speech on the platform.

More than 200 communities on the site signed an open letter today addressed to CEO Steve Huffman, urging him to take on a series of reforms they believe will help cut down the behavior.

The letter, which was posted on the subreddit AgainstHateSubreddits, called hate speech the website’s “most glaring problem” and claimed the company has done “extremely little” to address it under Huffman’s tenure. Huffman, who co-founded Reddit, returned to the company as CEO in 2015.

The 200 subreddits, which claim to represent 200 million subscribers, made a series of demands to the company, including to broaden its rules to include a new “sitewide policy against racism, slurs, and hate speech targeted at protected groups.”

“Steve, if you and Reddit genuinely care about the values of standing up to racism and hate, then you need to back it up with real action,” users wrote in the letter. “With a website with the impact of Reddit on the broader conversations being held in communities around the world, this website needs real leadership and real action.”

It further demanded the company be more proactive in banning hateful subreddits and users, hire more women and minorities in leadership and hire more community managers to work alongside Reddit’s volunteer moderators.

The group’s final demand was that Reddit honor the wishes of Alexis Ohanian, the company’s co-founder and executive chairman, who resigned from Reddit’s board Friday so a Black candidate could take his place. Huffman said that day that he would honor Ohanian’s request and that management was working with moderators to “change our content policy to explicitly address hate” in the coming weeks.

Huffman responded to the open letter Monday morning, referring people to his statement from Friday. “We shared our thoughts and intentions last Friday, June 6; your list and our list have a high amount of overlap,” Huffman wrote in a comment on the open letter. “We’d like to show progress with what we do in the coming weeks rather than what we say. I’m looking forward to speaking directly with those of you participating in the Mod Councils. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for all you do for your communities.” At the time of publication, Huffman’s comment has -53 points.

“Forming moderator councils that will be ignored is another waste of time to kick the can down the road,” wrote DubTeeDub, the user who posted the open letter. “We need real results and real action now.”

The demands come in the wake of the nationwide protests spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis two weeks ago—protests that signal an upheaval not only in American policing, but in many powerful institutions in the country. 

Silicon Valley has not been exempt. President Donald Trump’s recent post on Facebook and Twitter, threatening “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” elicited divergent responses from the two social media companies. Twitter restricted the tweet for violating its rules on glorifying violence while Facebook took a hands-off approach and said they want nothing to do with moderating the president’s posts. Facebook’s decision drew intense scrutiny even from employees, some of whom publicly condemned their employer, staged a walkout and even resigned. Snapchat also announced last week it would stop promoting Trump on its Discover page for inciting “racial violence and injustice” in off-platform comments.

While Trump has completely avoided Reddit—save for one Ask Me Anything during the 2016 campaign—the “front page of the internet” has been a watering hole for Trump’s supporters. The subreddit The_Donald was placed behind a quarantine—where users have to opt-in to view it after seeing a warning—last July for “significant issues with reporting and addressing violations of Reddit’s rules against violence and other aspects of the content policy.” Moderators of The_Donald even pinned a post to the subreddit, urging users to attend the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. 

Unlike other social platforms like Facebook or Twitter, Reddit uses volunteer moderators who set and enforce rules on individual subreddits. Additionally, Reddit has a sitewide content policy, a set of rules to which all users must adhere. These rules bar any content that “encourages or incites violence” or “threatens, harasses or bullies,” but does not mention hate speech or racism. In 2018, Huffman explicitly stated that racism does not break Reddit’s sitewide rules.

Huffman said in a statement last week that Reddit does not “tolerate hate, racism and violence, and while we have work to do to fight these on our platform, our values are clear.” 

Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao criticized the statement and tweeted, “I am obligated to call you out: You should have shut down The_Donald instead of amplifying it and its hate, racism and violence. So much of what is happening now lies at your feet. You don’t get to say [Black Lives Matter] when Reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long.”

@ScottNover Scott Nover is a platforms reporter at Adweek, covering social media companies and their influence.