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New CEO: Some People on Reddit 'Shouldn't Be Here at All'

Co-founder Steve Huffman shifted again, saying the site wasn't designed as a "bastion of free speech."

When former interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao purged the site of some hateful subreddits a month back, many in the Reddit community flipped out.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Steve Huffman, the Reddit co-founder and former CEO who recently returned to replace Pao, who effectively endorsed the tactic in an announcement earlier today.

In the post, Huffman suggested that he’s comfortable with the exact same thing.

The majority of Reddit’s content “comes from wonderful, creative, funny, smart, and silly communities,” he said, but added, “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.”

Reddit’s leadership hasn’t ever really denied the site has a dark side, but they’ve given reliably inconsistent responses about how to handle the numerous hate-filled parts of the site.

In 2012, in the wake of another Reddit scandal (this one about Gawker’s expose that revealed the identity of one of the site’s most notorious trolls), then-CEO Yishan Wong boasted loudly about the site’s commitment to free speech:

“We stand for free speech,” he wrote. “This means we are not going to ban distasteful subreddits. We will not ban legal content even if we find it odious or if we personally condemn it. Not because that’s the law in the United States — because as many people have pointed out, privately owned forums are under no obligation to uphold it — but because we believe in that ideal independently, and that’s what we want to promote on our platform.”

This announcement would come back to haunt Wong, who was ousted from the company in the wake of last year’s celebrity photo hack.

In May, Pao gave an interview to NPR in which she took a step back from Wong’s firm stand, saying: “It’s not our site’s goal to be a completely free-speech platform. We want to be a safe platform and we want to be a platform that also protects privacy at the same time.” Pao followed up on these remarks by announcing on June 10 that certain subreddits (including the extremely popular r/FatPeopleHate) would be banned from the site immediately.

After Pao resigned on Friday, Reddit board member Sam Altman gave muted criticism of Pao’s actions by telling Wired that it was impossible to “legislate the hate away.” This completed the pivot from a free speech defense, as Altman then moved to a suggestion that “you can try to build software in a way to emphasize the good parts [of Reddit].” Altman went on to note that he believes Huffman is particularly skilled at building such tech-focused solutions.

This is why Huffman’s announcement today that some communities just “shouldn’t be on” Reddit could cause more controversy. Reddit’s leadership has gone from to-the-hilt defenses of harassing content, to policing that content, to trying to work around that content to, perhaps ultimately, recognizing that the only way to address the toxicity is by taking it head on.

Huffman said he would give more details about the “policy update” in an “Ask Me Anything” session on the site Thursday at 1 pm PT.

Read the full text of Huffman’s memo below:

Hey Everyone,

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.

We as a community need to decide together what our values are. To that end, I’ll be hosting an AMA on Thursday 1pm pst to present our current thinking to you, the community, and solicit your feedback.

PS – I won’t be able to hang out in comments right now. Still meeting everyone here!

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