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Three Things to Look For in Today's Reddit CEO 'Ask Me Anything' Post

Ex-CEO drama, community culture issues and product challenges are likely topics for today's discussion.

Thinkstock / razihusin

On Tuesday, Reddit co-founder and newly installed CEO Steve Huffman said in a “Content Policy Update” that certain communities just don’t belong on Reddit. And in a characteristically Reddit move, Huffman also said he was going to do an “Ask Me Anything” post in the r/IAmA subreddit today, at 1 pm PST.

Huffman will have the benefit of picking and choosing which questions he responds to. Still, you can expect there’ll be a lot of Redditors mad at Huffman, who appeared warm to the idea of banning hateful subreddits in his announcement. And they’ll have plenty of other stuff to scream at him about, too.

In the last five weeks, Reddit’s now former interim CEO Ellen Pao announced a purge of some harassing subreddits (which ignited a Reddit firestorm), and the company fired popular Reddit staffer Victoria Taylor, who worked with site moderators, which set off another controversy.

On Friday, Pao announced she was leaving Reddit over disagreements with the board about the site’s growth, and Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman was ushered in as her permanent replacement. The following Monday, engineering chief Bethanye Blount tendered her resignation, telling Re/code she didn’t have faith that Reddit could follow through on promises being made publicly to the community.

All of that, in addition to the internecine drama among Redditors, will be hovering above the entire AMA. To help parse all that for you, here are three significant things to look for in Huffman’s discussion:

That Yishan Wong Comment

Yishan Wong is the Reddit CEO who was canned last year after the celebrity photo hack scandal that enveloped the site. In a reply to Huffman’s post, Wong said he was the one largely responsible for the current state of Reddit, because he didn’t foresee how toxic the community would become.

“Much of Reddit’s current condition is on me,” Wong wrote. “I didn’t anticipate what (some) Redditors would decide to do with freedom. Reddit has become a lot bigger — yes, a lot better — AND a lot worse. I have to take responsibility.”

Wong went on to defend Ellen Pao, saying she stood up to the board on multiple occasions when they called for her to outright ban all hate subreddits, and that she resisted because she knew how the community would respond. If what Wong says is true, it means that in helping to push Pao out, Redditors were the ones who inadvertently got rid of their best line of defense against people who want to shut down portions of the site.

Huffman may not reply directly to any of what Wong said, but he could have a tough time dancing around the idea that the community he wants to work with is the same community that the company’s leadership doesn’t think too highly of.

Backing Up Product Promises

When Reddit’s former VP of engineering, Bethanye Blount, left the company (less than two months after joining from Facebook), she did so because she didn’t think Reddit could deliver on the promises its leadership has making publicly.

The promises Blount referred to include Huffman’s stated commitment to beefing up moderating tools and Reddit board member Sam Altman’s interview with Wired in which he said the company should build tools to handle the hateful content problem. Blount didn’t think she had the ability to succeed on shipping this in an expedient way, and Huffman emailed Re/code to say that she is wrong.

He hasn’t given very specific details yet on what projects he plans to push out to execute his new content policy, and you can expect people will be clamoring for them.

Culture of Reddit

At its very core, almost every single Reddit controversy in the history of the company comes down to a question of the service’s user culture.

Why are people drawn to Reddit to start white supremacy or mens’ rights activism forums? Is the site architected in a way that gives these people extra power? How does focusing on technological tools address the fundamental creepiness that pervades the entire community?

Some say that Reddit’s failure to seriously engage with these questions means it is simply too toxic to be saved; you can’t solve nearly a decade’s worth of mismanaged content moderation with a sprint toward new tech capabilities. One of Huffman’s biggest tasks going forward will be to prove to advertisers that this isn’t so.

The company’s plan to spin off the site’s popular (and relatively drama-free) AMA subreddit into a separate entity from the rest of the service doesn’t seem like a real vote of confidence in the community. Wong’s comment suggests the board doesn’t care much for the community’s bleating about free speech, and their influence could be pushing co-founders Huffman and Alexis Ohanian to walk back that “free speech” rhetoric that has come to define Reddit throughout its existence.

Today will be Huffman’s first real opportunity to demonstrate how he wants to define Reddit going forward.

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