Reddit CEO Steve Huffman today admitted that he had edited Reddit user comments that criticized and insulted him, wielding his power to anonymously change references to his own username, and replace them with moderators of the pro-Donald Trump subreddit, r/the_donald.
Huffman — who posts on the site as “spez” — admitted to the transgression after being called out by users of r/the_donald, saying he was inspired to edit the comments after a spate of insults emanating from the pro-Trump subreddit. “I messed with the “fuck u/spez” comments, replacing “spez” with r/the_donald mods for about an hour,” Huffman said, indicating that the only thing he secretly altered was the target of the insults.
“It’s been a long week here trying to unwind the r/pizzagate stuff,” Huffman said, referring to the ongoing conspiracy theory that links Hillary Clinton, her campaign chairman John Podesta, a Washington DC pizza parlor, and a clandestine pedophile ring. Reddit, under Huffman’s leadership, made the decision today to ban a subreddit that had sprung up to discuss “Pizzagate.” That decision was motivated by users posting personal information of people accused of being involved in the wild and entirely unproven conspiracy, but some users of right-wing and anti-Clinton subreddits such as r/the_donald saw it as Huffman promoting egregious censorship, prompting a slew of direct insults.
“As much as we try to maintain a good relationship with you all, it does get old getting called a pedophile constantly,” Huffman wrote on the r/the_donald. Although stopping short of a direct apology to those he edited, Huffman did say he had overstepped his bounds. “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.”
Reddit’s CEOs have been no stranger to criticism from the users of their site, but even after years of insults, taunts, and threats from random people, events like today show that public figures aren’t entirely armored against online attacks. While it can’t have been much fun for Huffman to be the target of abuse from a subset of meme-hungry Trump supporters, the insults pale in comparison to the the outpouring of hatred previous CEO Ellen Pao faced from larger sections of the site last year. Pao — who was seen as responsible for closing subreddits like r/fatpeoplehate and firing popular AMA handler Victoria Taylor — was able to avoid hitting back against her “sickening” treatment, even using the site to relax while she faced a firestorm of criticism.