Reddit’s CEO Steve Huffman has been caught editing comments of users of the infamous pro-Trump subreddit The_Donald. For a site which prides itself on “authentic” conversation, the ability of site administrators to secretly alter content has drastic implications.
During its tumultuous year on the site, Reddit’s Donald Trump community (r/the_donald) has been a constant source of strife for users and moderators alike. Huffman was a constant target for abuse for the_donald members, who hurled insults at him at every turn (“fuck u/spez” or “u/spez is a cuck” were the most common—spez being his on-site pseudonym) Finally, he snapped, and decided to edit the posts of users mocking him without their knowledge or consent.
The_donald caught the changes and logged them in a thread, wherein Huffman admitted to the act, noting that he acted alone and without the consent of the employees he entrusted to handle this exact sort of abuse. By way of explanation he posted the following (emphasis ours):
Yep. I messed with the “fuck u/spez” comments. It’s been a long week here trying to unwind the r/pizzagate stuff. 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.
Though the comments have since been restored following the debacle, a user named UnimatrixZeroOne leaked a series of Slack chatlogs exchanged between Huffman and a variety of veteran moderators and site admins “out of anger.” It’s natural to question the authenticity of these chatlogs, though Unimatrix apologized to other moderators in a locked subreddit for moderators only after the leak. Not to mention, a log of this scope would be difficult to fabricate.
The chats reveal that Huffman had turned off notifications long ago, which means he wasn’t seeing any of the_donald’s abuse in the first place. “If you mod politics [a default subreddit and perennial target for the_donald] you should be having an aneurysm ten times what I’m feeling,” wrote pomosexuality, “because spez didnt give two shits about you being trolled for literal months.” “Outright threatened on multiple occasions,” optimalg chimed in.
Huffman finally entered the chat with the words “bring back pao 😞” a reference to interim CEO Ellen Pao who despite—or more likely because of—her attempts to rid the site of abuse made her a target for abuse, and was eventually forced out of the company.
The Slack chats reveal to what extent the top brass of Reddit are tired of the_donald and its penchant for harassment, vote brigading, threats, and otherwise being a blight on the community at large.
There was an obvious consensus: the members of the_donald break site rules constantly, harass moderators, threaten people, and get away with it. But as Mannoslimmin points out in that chat, “However difficult it was [to contain the_donald] before today, it’s a fuckload more difficult after what spez did today.”
We’ve reached out to Reddit for comment and will update if we hear back.
Update 11/24/16 12:49pm EST: Unimatrix reached out to me over Twitter DM and wrote that, despite his or her initial regret in leaking the Slack chats, “after an overwhelming amount of responses, I am starting to feel the leak was the right thing to do, even if how it was done was not. I figured I’d give you a comment since reddit itself has not.”
As always, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any information concerning this matter.