Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian's resignation Friday from the company's board served as a reminder that it's not just Twitter, Facebook and YouTube wrestling with how to regulate speech online, Axios' Sara Fischer and I report.
The big picture: Reddit is a granddaddy of social media, preserving the look and feel of a bygone era — as well as some of its anything-goes mentality. But just like other platforms, it now finds itself torn between giving wide latitude to all forms of speech and having a zero-tolerance policy for hate.
Driving the news: In a video posted to Twitter, Ohanian said he resigned as a member of the Reddit board and asked the company to fill his seat with a black candidate, a request that CEO Steve Hoffman, in an open letter, said will be honored.
- Ohanian will use profits from future gains on his Reddit stock to serve the black community — chiefly "to curb racial hate," he said — starting with a $1 million donation to Colin Kaepernick's Know Your Rights Camp.
"I am saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks, 'What did you do?' ... I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership to people in power right now."— Ohanian, who is married to Serena Williams
Between the lines: Ohanian didn't explicitly raise any objections about how Reddit is run. But his resignation and push for more black representation in the boardroom align with longstanding calls for Reddit to take firmer action against white nationalists and other extremists on its platform.
That very concern spurred former Reddit president Ellen Pao to rip Huffman last week, ahead of Ohanian's resignation.
- She said Huffman should have removed the Reddit channel for Donald Trump supporters, r/The_Donald, instead of "amplifying it and its hate, racism, and violence. So much of what is happening now lies at your feet," she tweeted.
- Reddit "quarantined" the forum last year, following death threats that users were making against Oregon lawmakers. The quarantine meant r/The_Donald remained open, but posts on it couldn't make it to Reddit's front page, and only registered users could access it. It is now largely inactive.
In his open letter, Huffman said Reddit is exploring short- and long-term solutions to curbing hate on the platform, but he didn’t commit to any specific immediate action.
Yes, but: Ohanian, Pao and Huffman, despite their different perspectives, share what they frame as a commitment to making online platforms more inclusive and less tolerant of hate speech. But the path to doing so is a politically perilous one.
- Just last month, Republican lawmakers threatened in a letter to Reddit that they might take action against the tech company for cracking down on r/The_Donald.
History lesson: Perhaps best known for its AMA ("ask me anything") interviews with celebrities, Reddit is one of the oldest discussion forums still popular on the internet.
- It's home to more than 130,000 ongoing discussions, known as subreddits, ranging from controversial forums dealing with race and politics to more mundane topics, such as jokes, science and "showerthoughts."
Be smart: While Reddit's system of upvotes and downvotes suggest a measure of democracy, critics say the service’s design and culture have left it dominated by the white, male voices that formed its early user base and leadership, often discouraging diverse and emerging voices.
Go deeper: Axios' Dan Primack spoke with Ohanian about Reddit's future last year