Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian has resigned and asked that the company replace him on its board with a black candidate.
Ohanian’s decision comes in the wake of nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, on May 25.
“I co-founded @reddit 15 years ago to help people find community and a sense of belonging. It is long overdue to do the right thing. I’m doing this for me, for my family, and for my country,” Ohanian wrote on Twitter. “I’m saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: ‘What did you do?’”
Ohanian, who is married to American tennis player Serena Williams, added that he would use future gains on his Reddit stock to invest in black communities, “chiefly to curb racial hate.” He also pledged US$1 million to Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp, a legal defense initiative that focuses on self-empowerment of black and brown communities.
“I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now,” he further said. “To everyone fighting to fix our broken nation: do not stop.”
In response to Ohanian’s decision, Reddit’s co-founder and current CEO Steve Huffman said in a post on Reddit that the company would honor Ohanian’s request to replace him with a black candidate. Huffman also said that the company would be taking a tougher stance on racism, but provided few details on how it would go about this.
Reddit’s controversial history
Throughout most of its history Reddit has prioritized free speech, but in recent years the company has been embroiled in controversy for hosting forums that promote hate speech.
The company has banned groups like r/blackpeoplehate, the alt-right r/MillionDollarExtreme and the QAnon subreddit. The pro-Trump r/The_Donald subreddit has also been a major source of problems for the platform and was quarantined last year for repeated violations of Reddit’s rules on hate speech, meaning that its content does not appear in website searches or recommendations.
In his post Huffman also said that Reddit is working with moderators to change its content policy to explicitly address hate, adding, “I want to take responsibility for the history of our policies over the years that got us here, and we still have work to do.”
Huffman also addressed how inconsistencies and a lack of clarity in the company’s policies has led to confusion over where the company stands with regard to racism.
“In 2018, I confusingly said racism is not against the rules, but also isn’t welcome on Reddit. This gap between our content policy and our values has eroded our effectiveness in combating hate and racism on Reddit; I accept full responsibility for this,” he said.
Reddit’s former CEO criticizes the company
Ohanian’s decision came after Reddit’s former CEO, Ellen Pao, criticized the company in response to a letter Huffman wrote to Reddit employees about the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Reddit community, Huffman wrote, does “not tolerate hate, racism, and violence, and while we have work to do to fight these on our platform, our values are clear.”
In response Pao tweeted, “I am obligated to call you out: You should have shut down the_donald instead of amplifying it and its hate, racism, and violence.
“So much of what is happening now lies at your feet,” she continued. “You don’t get to say BLM when reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long.”
Earlier in the week, several popular subreddits switched access rights to private, or banned new posts to protest the company’s hate speech policies, as well as police brutality and racism in the United States.
Some of the participating subreddits include r/AskReddit and r/NFL among others.
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