Despite multiple apologies, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman is continuing to incur the wrath of the contributors to a popular Donald Trump subreddit after admitting to modifying a number of obscenity-laden posts directed at him.
The apologies follow a series of events that were kicked off by a fake news story regarding a pizza place, known as Comet Ping Pong, in Washington, D.C. The articles — which later gained momentum on blogs and social media — essentially recycled a conspiracy theory started by 4Chan users that claimed the restaurant was the site of a child abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager John D. Podesta. Soon, a subreddit entitled “r/Pizzagate” emerged. Its mission: to prove the theory correct.
Taking notice of the conversations on the new forum, Reddit quickly shut it down. Users searching for the subreddit were confronted with a message stating: This community is banned.” Reddit added: We don’t want witch hunts on our site.”
When users on the popular “r/The_Donald” subreddit caught wind of the removal of r/Pizzagate, they weren’t happy. Some began bombarding the forum with abusive messages specifically targeting Huffman and using his Reddit username, which meant he was alerted every time a post mentioning him was shared on the site.
The CEO apparently decided he wasn’t going to take matters lying down. On Nov. 24, a moderator for “r/The Donald” alerted users that their posts had been changed. All the abusive posts directed at Huffman had allegedly been modified to include the names of the moderators of the Trump forum, bouncing the expletives back to them.
The moderator turned out to be correct. Huffman replied within the same thread, admitting that he had, in fact, changed the vitriolic messages. Expressing regret for his behavior, Huffman stated the following in his comment: “As much as we try to maintain a good relationship with you all, it does get old getting called a pedophile constantly. As the CEO, I shouldn’t play such games, and it’s all fixed now. Our community team is pretty pissed at me, so I most assuredly won’t do this again.”
It seems Huffman’s apparent attempt at retribution has backfired. A number of r/The_Donald users showed little sympathy for his actions in their replies. Others raised questions over the credibility of Reddit, worrying the censorship and alterations could be more widespread.
“This, unfortunately, calls into question the validity of any post made on the entirety of Reddit, and raises sincere concerns, beyond The_Donald,” wrote one user.
“Add in the fact that now, no matter what the admins, owner, or anyone shows or says, it all [could’ve] been manipulated and we [therefore] can trust nothing from anyone at Reddit,” claimed another user.
Huffman said Wednesday that the site will take action against hundreds of its “most toxic users,” and will make changes to prevent some posts from the r/The_Donald subreddit from appearing on one of the site’s main hubs, meaning it is no longer shut down, though certain posts are disallowed.
On Thursday, a little more than a week after the incident first came to light, Huffman attempted to apologize yet again, this time in a more extensive Reddit post. “While many users across the site found what I did funny or appreciated that I was standing up to the bullies (I received plenty of support from users of r/the_donald), many others did not,” he wrote. “I understand what I did has greater implications than my relationship with one community, and it is fair to raise the question of whether this erodes trust in Reddit. I hope our transparency around this event is an indication that we take matters of trust seriously.”
Huffman also promised to cut back on his own Reddit activity in the future, and noted that the online forum would be introducing more stringent moderation rules to ensure users “show enough respect to others.” Moreover, Reddit has now debuted r/all filtering to help its community more carefully parse through the content it does (and doesn’t) want to see.
Huffman isn’t the first Reddit chief to draw the ire of the site’s community. Last year, former CEO Ellen Pao was forced to resign after a petition calling for her removal received more than 200,000 signatures. Pao had overseen the shutdown of several subreddits accused of indulging in hateful “behavior.” Huffman, who replaced Pao, is one of the co-founders of the site and served as its original CEO.
Article originally published on 11-23-2016. Updated on 12-1-2016 by Lulu Chang: Added additional apology note from Huffman, as well as new Reddit policing guidelines.