Controversy struck Reddit on Nov. 23 when Steve Huffman, the CEO of the company, admitted to personally editing users’ comments on a pro-Donald Trump forum to turn the tables on malicious users. According to The Washington Post, a group of Donald Trump supporters were writing nasty comments about the CEO of Reddit, which prompted Huffman to change the comments so that they would be attacking the pro-Trump group leaders instead. These actions are a direct violation of the website’s no editing policy and Huffman has since apologized for his actions. Huffman also assured the press that it will never happen again and that he had intended to revert the comments, although he never actually did. Huffman, along with many Reddit users and employees, noted that his interference with the forum was not the correct way to address the situation of online harassment and I personally agree that Huffman took the wrong approach and interfered where he ethically should not have.
While Huffman was clearly frustrated about online harassment, his decision to violate the company’s own policies has definitely damaged Reddit’s credibility. The Washington Post explained that Reddit is based on the idea that any group of people, with any beliefs, can create their own forum and can speak freely on that forum. By changing the comments of users, Huffman is infringing on the free speech that Reddit promotes. It sends the message that a group of people’s opinions are not to be supported, even though Reddit is a forum for any group.
Online harassment is a serious issue for Reddit, with the CEO stating himself that there are “many toxic users” on the site who participate in online harassment, but he has ensured that Reddit will be cracking down on that issue. In reference to the controversy, Huffman stated that if a group was speaking or commenting about another employee in the manner that the pro-Trump group was speaking and commenting on the forum, he would ban them from the website immediately, but because the group was targeting Huffman himself, he let it slide. Since Huffman was the target of the online harassment, he felt that he could take it and so did not take action on the group. However, he is now promising action against those harassing others on Reddit’s forums. Banning a group from the website on the grounds of harassment is a much better option than breaking company policy and personally editing the comments of users who are supposed to feel secure in what they are posting online.
According to The Washington Post, a Reddit moderator released conversations between Huffman and Reddit moderators about the edited conversations. These conversations show the Reddit employees specifically discussing the editing of the comments, which presents yet another negative image of Reddit. Huffman’s actions have definitely lessened people’s trust with the website and lends an unprofessional and childish image that a CEO of a major organization is trying to one-up a group of bullies. I believe that the incident also has a lot to say about the security of online forums as a whole. The incident goes to show that there is always someone with access to change what is written online and therefore, you cannot trust everything that you come across on the internet.
I find it difficult to assume that you are secure when using the internet or apps because as previously stated, there are always people with access to what you post or send. Nowadays, there is a lot of warning — whether by parents or professors or bosses — to never assume that you are secure on the internet and occurrences like the one on Reddit help to prove these statements. To combat the issue of the lack of security, it is important that these online forums are sure to hire individuals who will be able to stick to company policy and not be enticed by certain users on their forums. Hiring ethical and stringent employees can help to make sure that these policies are correctly enforced and perhaps will cause users to feel more secure.