Reddit co-founder resigns from board… to show leadership

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian stepped down from his seat on the social media company’s board Friday. He asks that his replacement is a diverse choice, preferably a black man or woman. This is 2020 and that sort of action by a corporate leader is all but expected these days.

Reddit prides itself on its reach and calls itself the front page of the internet. There is a wide variety of voices posting articles on the site. President Trump is the focus of a popular and powerful subreddit. His supporters made their subreddit so popular that Reddit had to rush through a change in the site’s algorithm in 2016. The “r/the donald” subreddit didn’t force the change, the company said at the time but it did hasten the implementation of the change since r/the donald chains were taking over conversations on the site. In other words, before the election of President Trump and the creation of a popular Reddit account by his supporters, any alleged racism or ugly speech springing forth from users was allowed to stand.

The subreddit was originally just a straightforward political community focused on the Trump campaign but then turned into “an authoritarian one full of memes and in-jokes, far-right talking points, coded racism, misogyny, homophobia, and Islamophobia, and a hypocritical “free speech” rallying point.” Hmm. You see where this is going, right?

Alexis Ohanian is a white man married to tennis superstar Serena Williams, who is black. They have a young daughter. Ohanian co-founded the site 15 years ago. Two years ago he and co-founder Steve Huffman stepped away from the day to day operations but remained on the board. That board is comprised of 1 white woman and 4 white men, including him. Did he suddenly wake up Friday and realize that he sits on an all – white board of directors of his own making? He is resigning from the board in order to show leadership, he says. Steve Huffman says he will honor Ohanian’s request. “I want to take responsibility for the history of our policies over the years that got us here, and we still have work to do.”

Reddit has come under fire frequently for charges of racist and hateful posts. Now that he is a father, Ohanian wants to have an answer, should his daughter ever ask what he did during this year’s social unrest. So, what better way to virtue-signal than to quit his job, now that he’s made millions, and ask that a black person join that all-white board?

And, he’s going to contribute $1M to Colin Kaepernick’s nonprofit Know Your Rights Camp. Ok, it’s his money.

Perhaps a letter released by Steve Huffman in support of Black Lives Matter on June 1 prompted Ohanian to act now. A former Reddit employee wasn’t having it without blasting Huffman for hypocrisy – especially since the Trump supporters’ account is still up.

And, yesterday Huffman posted a statement on changes that will be made to counter racism on the site going forward.

We are already working to fix these problems, and this is a promise for more urgency. Our current content policy is effectively nine rules for what you cannot do on Reddit. In many respects, it’s served us well. Under it, we have made meaningful progress cleaning up the platform (and done so without undermining the free expression and authenticity that fuels Reddit). That said, we still have work to do. This current policy lists only what you cannot do, articulates none of the values behind the rules, and does not explicitly take a stance on hate or racism.

We will update our content policy to include a vision for Reddit and its communities to aspire to, a statement on hate, the context for the rules, and a principle that Reddit isn’t to be used as a weapon. We have details to work through, and while we will move quickly, I do want to be thoughtful and also gather feedback from our moderators (through our Mod Councils). With more moderator engagement, the timeline is weeks, not months.

So, there you have it. All the racism and hatefulness that may have crept into conversations on the site over the past 15 years of its existence are now being addressed because, let’s face it, it’s an election year and Trump supporters are an easy scapegoat for the left. But, it makes liberals feel good to “do something” and to write a fat check.

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