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Reefer Madness: Reddit’s pot leader swindles community

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Shaun Apple, the creator of the popular Reddit section r/trees, told the Daily Dot last year that he planned on creating a nonprofit organization called the International Cannabis Culture Education Forum to “introduce more people to the unique form of cannabis culture.”

Over the last five months, he used the Reddit section to raise $3,784.72. There’s just one problem: The nonprofit does “not exist in the sense of it being incorporated as a nonprofit,” Apple admitted in an image and comment posted on Reddit:

Let me start by saying that I understand and empathize sincerely with the reaction that some people had regarding profit being involved with Trees. More specifically I’d like to apologize for the dishonest manner in which profit was achieved. ... The truth is that I make a little bit of money each month from referrals to Amazon via the affiliate link. It’s nowhere near enough to support my daily life. It’s just a little bit to help justify the work that I put into r/trees, and I understand that I did not go about this as truthfully as I should have. r/trees is my creation and like anyone who creates a successful web site, product, community, invention, etc. I wanted some way to be able to be rewarded for it.

News of the nonexistent nonprofit organization has dominated r/trees and r/WTF over the last 24 hours, upsetting a Reddit moderator, a Reddit administrator, and hundreds of  r/trees community members.

  

“I was disappointed. I was very disappointed,” Reddit general manager Erik Martin told the Daily Dot. “It’s a pretty cool community on Reddit and you hate to see something like this happen. It’s people behind these things and they make mistakes and they sort of rationalize decisions that shouldn’t be.”

The Daily Dot has reached out to Apple for a comment and is waiting to hear back.

Redditor whollyhemp worked with Apple to have a link to his online store featured on the sidebar of r/trees. In return, whollyhemp agreed to donate 15 percent of the proceeds from all products purchased using the link sent to Apple’s nonprofit.

“The total amount ‘donated’ was $262.35,” whollyhemp told the Daily Dot in a Reddit message. “I am deeply saddened that these well-intentioned donations have been squandered.”

Running advertisements and posting links in the sidebar of a subreddit is often left up to the discretion of each section moderator. But in the case of Apple, who was collecting money for an organization that does not exist, it was against Reddit’s rules, Martin said.

“We don’t routinely check the links and sidebars for affiliates, and I guess it’s something we’re going to have to do now,” Martin said. “We’re aware of it; we’re following it. It’s definitely not something allowed and we’re hoping that he will fix this problem on his own.”

Reddit is in the process of clarifying the sidebar rules and is not sure if Apple will face any penalty on the social news site, Martin said. Instead, Martin is waiting for the r/trees moderators, community, and Apple himself see if they can “figure it out on their own,” before dealing with Apple’s account.

Regardless of the outcome, r/wtf moderator SolInvictus believes Apple needs to return the money.

“You cannot win this. Just cut your losses, give the money back to the community, or give it away to a charity in an open and transparent manner,” SolInvictus wrote on Reddit. “Resign from your position. There's nothing else to it. It's just that easy. You have the choice to do it the easy way, or the hard way.”

Apple previously told the Daily Dot, “Anything on the Internet could be real or not real … It’s important to make [the] leap from virtual world to reality.”

Unfortunately, his nonprofit never did.

Photo by @FiverWeed