r/the_donald

Screengrab via Reddit

Steve Huffman regrets going to war with r/the_donald.

It’s been a tense week at Reddit. Last Wednesday CEO Steve Huffman admitted that he had altered user comments that were critical of him on the site, leading to an uproar among the online community. Today Huffman formally apologized on Reddit for his actions and unveiled filtering for r/all.

It's part of what Huffman calls “a more proactive approach to policing” the community. Huffman, known to users on the site as "spez," edited posts of users from the notorious pro-Trump subreddit, r/the_donald, home to some of the president-elect’s most passionate online followers. 

Using his moderator permissions, Huffman took posts critical of spez and swapped in the names of users who moderate r/the_donald. While some users found the joke funny, others saw it as an abuse of his power and a betrayal of Reddit’s own community stands.

In his post Wednesday, Huffman explained himself:

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. 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. Reddit is no longer the little website my college roommate, u/kn0thing, and I started more than 11 years ago. It is a massive collection of communities that provides news, entertainment, and fulfillment for millions of people around the world, and I am continually humbled by what Reddit has grown into. I will never risk your trust like this again, and we are updating our internal controls to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future.

During his apology, Huffman made a point of expressing his distress at the influx of toxic and hostile behavior that has flooded the site, including what he sees as manipulation of rules by r/the_donald to bump its posts to the top of r/all. This includes users of that subreddit stickying posts to the top of the page, in order to get around standard organic voting and artificially promote the subreddit on other pages.

Although some users have called for Reddit to ban or shut down r/the_donald because of user behavior—which included harassment of other users and subreddits on the site—in the interest of moving forward Huffman is leaving the community intact. Instead Reddit has enabled filtering for all users of r/all, allowing them to remove specific communities they don’t want to see from the r/all feed.

While Huffman’s actions were out of line to the point where even neutral parties were calling him out, his targeting of r/the_donald has the impact of legitimizing the subreddit’s preexisting belief that its parent company was conspiring against it.

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Reddit's CEO confesses to censoring insults he got from pro-Trump users
Many in the Reddit community are currently dealing with a trust and confidence crisis, after it was revealed this week that the company’s CEO, Steve Huffman, secretly edited user comments on the site. Huffman’s actions are widely viewed as a contravention of the site’s basic norms, its procedures for handling harassing or abusive posts, and its reputation as a haven for free discourse.
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