Alexis Ohanian has stepped down from his seat on the board of Reddit, the website he cofounded just shy of 15 years ago, in an apparent act of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It is long overdue to do the right thing,” Ohanian wrote in a blog post Friday afternoon. “I’m writing this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: ‘What did you do?’” Ohanian married Serena Williams in 2017, with the tennis star announcing their engagement in a Reddit post, referring to herself as “future Mrs. Kn0thing”—a reference to Ohanian’s username on the site.
Ohanian not only resigned his position on the company’s board, he’s also pledged to “use future gains on my Reddit stock to serve the black community.” His first donation, he says, will be $1 million to Know Your Rights Camp, the black and brown liberation organization founded by Colin Kaepernick. He’s also made clear he wishes his board seat be filled by a black person. (Reddit’s other board members, Sam Altman and Bob Sauerberg, are both white men.)
It’s impossible to ignore the timing of Ohanian’s departure amid a flurry of brands attempting to bandwagon onto the cause of Black Lives Matter—Reddit among them. An anodyne note posted on Monday by current CEO Steve Huffman paid lip service to the idea of racial justice, while remaining silent on what the company or Huffman would do to advance the cause, save for a passing mention of supporting voter reform.
Huffman was publicly shamed by Reddit’s former interim CEO, Ellen Pao, on Twitter for the website’s complicity in protecting and amplifying communities built around hate and harassment. (In particular she mentions r/the_donald, the infamous pro-Trump subreddit that has, among other things, threatened Reddit’s own employees.)
While Reddit’s long-running reputation as an incubator for racism and harassment would seem a good a reason as any to jump ship, it’s unclear what specific issues Ohanian has with Reddit, or why he felt leaving the company was the best option for addressing them at this point. A spokesperson for Ohanian declined to provide additional comment.
Since his resignation, however, Steve Huffman has written a lengthy post on the site, stating first and foremost that he intends to honor the request of filling Ohanian’s board seat with a black candidate. “There is an unacceptable gap between our beliefs as people and a company, and what you see in our content policy,” Huffman wrote, adding that “users and moderators genuinely do not have enough clarity as to where we as administrators stand on racism.”
True enough, Huffman has hewed close to the libertarian ethos of other tech platforms, stating “I believe the best defense against racism and other repugnant views, both on Reddit and in the world, is instead of trying to control what people can and cannot say through rules, is to repudiate these views in a free conversation, and empower our communities to do so on Reddit.” This essentially puts the responsibility of educating racists on the very people the racists are targeting.
In a very, very late-breaking mea culpa, Huffman at least admitted that, in regards to r/the_donald, “clearly, we should have quarantined it sooner.”
Updated: 6/5/2020, 4:50 p.m.: This post has been updated with additional information from Steve Huffman.
Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.