Reddit CEO Steve Huffman is under fire this week after secretly editing comments left by Donald Trump supporters.
Huffman, a 33 year old web developer, has been the CEO of Reddit for a little over a year, taking over the position when the previous CEO resigned following outcry from Reddit users. Now, nearly 5,000 people have signed a petition calling for Huffman to step aside too.
Here’s everything you need to know about Steve Huffman and the scandal igniting Reddit this week.
1. He Created Reddit With His College Classmate
Steve Huffman is one of the co-creators of Reddit, launching the website in 2006 with Alexis Ohanian. Both men attended the University of Virginia and teamed up after graduation on the project, for which they received funding from Y Combinator.
Huffman and Ohanian created Reddit out of a two-bedroom apartment in Boston, according to The New York Times, and since then, Huffman says the site has grown beyond his wildest dreams.
“We had little expectations for the company, so it seemed at the time like we were getting away with something,” he wrote in a recent Ask Me Anything.
Indeed, as of January 2016, Reddit is the 11th most visited website in the United States, according to Similar Web. That puts it ahead of Tumblr, Pinterest, Bing, ESPN and CNN. And according to Celebrity Net Worth, Huffman is worth roughly $4 million.
2. He Sold Reddit in 2006
A year after creating Reddit, Huffman sold the website to Condé Nast in October 2006.
At the time, there were a total of four employees working for Reddit: original founders Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, in addition to Christopher Slowe and Aaron Swartz. After the Condé Nast purchase, they were moved from Boston to San Francisco, according to Tech Crunch.
Huffman has later said that he regrets selling the website so soon, especially in light of how big it was about to get.
“If we could have seen the whole future that in four years [the economy] would recover and Reddit would be huge and traffic would be great, yeah, I wish I still owned Reddit now and owned it for the last four or five years,” Huffman told Mixergy in 2010.
3. He Left Reddit in 2010
Huffman decided to leave Reddit in 2010, creating a new travel website called Hipmunk with Adam Goldstein. The website was actually Goldstein’s idea; he approached Huffman and pitched the idea for a travel website built around visualized search results, according to Inc.
Later that year, Huffman and Goldstein launched Hipmunk which, as with Reddit, was funded by Y Combinator. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, also helped out with the project, designing the site’s mascot of a squirrel wearing aviator glasses. He later became Hipmunk’s marketing director.
Huffman returned as the CEO of Reddit in 2015, but he remained a chief technology officer at Hipmunk, a position he maintains to this day.
4. He Returned to Reddit in 2015 as the Site Was in Turmoil
Five years later, Steve Huffman came back to Reddit when the website was in full on crisis mode.
At the time, Ellen Pao served as the CEO of Reddit. In June 2015, it was announced that several controversial subreddits – communities on the website devoted to specific topics – were being banned for promoting off-site harassment; the subreddits included two devoted to hating overweight people. Reddit users, who are fiercely opposed to censorship in any form, created petitions calling for Pao’s firing.
Later that summer, a well-liked employee, Victoria Taylor, was suddenly let go. This lead to widespread outrage and complaints among users that the company did not effectively communicate with its members or with its moderators, and anger at Pao reached a boiling point.
“I’m sorry we let our community down yesterday,” Pao told The New York Times the day after Taylor’s firing. “We should have informed our community moderators about the transition and worked through it with them.”
On July 10, Pao officially resigned as CEO, and it was announced that Steve Huffman would be returning to the company. Upon returning, Huffman said he would not be bringing back any of the subreddits that were banned, but he did say he would try to make it clearer what was and was not allowed.
“Creating a clear content policy is another of my immediate priorities,” Huffman told users in an Ask me Anything thread. “We will make it very clear what is and is not acceptable behavior on reddit….In my opinion, [/r/fatpeoplehate] crossed a line in that it was specifically hostile towards other redditors. Harassment and bullying affect people dramatically in the real world, and we want reddit to be a place where our users feel safe, or at least don’t feel threatened.”
5. He Recently Admitted to Secretly Editing Comments From Donald Trump Supporters
These days, one of the most popular and controversial communities on Reddit is /r/The_Donald, a forum dedicated to Donald Trump which became one of the largest hubs of Trump supporters on the Internet during the 2016 campaign and which currently has over 300,000 subscribers. Users of The_Donald are often critical of Steve Huffman, calling him names and generally rebelling against the CEO.
Recently, The_Donald users used Reddit to spread a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton and her associates were operating a child sex ring out of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. A subreddit devoted to this conspiracy, known as “Pizzagate,” was shut down, leading to accusations of censorship reminiscent of the 2015 Ellen Pao incident.
But the situation worsened when it was discovered that comments critical of Steve Huffman in light of the Pizzagate incident were being secretly edited by Huffman itself. For instance, posts criticizing Huffman were modified so that it appeared they were actually being critical of the moderators of The_Donald. It was not possible for users to see that these posts had been edited.
Surprisingly, Huffman immediately copped to doing this as soon as it was discovered, saying that he had had a long week and writing, “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.”
Now, as was the case with Pao, Huffman is being called on to step down from his position, with users shocked that the administrator of a major social media company would mess with users’ comments without their knowledge.
Outside of that initial statement, Huffman has not yet responded.
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