Reddit Co-founder Alexis Ohanian Steps Down to Create Diversity Opportunity

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The takeaways

  • Alexis Ohanian, once the executive chairman of Reddit, resigned from his board position and requested that it be given to a black candidate. 
  • The pro-black and anti-racism protests in the U.S. and abroad have also shone a light on Reddit’s permissiveness regarding racist and hate speech. 
  • Reddit CEO Steve Huffman has vowed to honour Ohanian’s request and also overhaul Reddit’s content policy to curb hate and scale moderation.

What happened?

Via Twitter, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian announced his resignation from the discussion platform Reddit, which he helped launch in 2005. Ohanian posted a video in which he described his decision as “an act of leadership” and called attention to “everyone fighting to fix our broken nation,” in reference to the protests that have arisen in the United States and globally in response to the death of George Floyd. 

Furthermore, Ohanian revealed that he had urged Reddit’s board to replace him with a black candidate. Ohanian, who is married to famed black tennis champion Serena Williams, explained that he wanted “to be able to answer [their] black daughter” should she ask him in the future about how he supported the current anti-racism demonstrations. 

Ohanian pledged future gains on his Reddit stock to support the black community to quell racial hatred. His first pledge will be a $1M donation to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp, a charitable organisation. In 2018, Ohanian left his daily responsibilities at Reddit, but before now had remained on its board. 

Leading by example

Reddit co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman responded to the news with an open letter on Reddit’s official announcements forum. The letter states that Ohanian’s request regarding his succession will be honoured. Moreover, it promises an overhaul of Reddit’s content policy, in collaboration with their moderators, to directly curb the spread of hate speech. Huffman also stated that Reddit had to “acknowledge and accept responsibility for the role [it played]” in enabling racist and hate speech to thrive on its platform. Huffman took personal responsibility for a 2018 post that “confusingly said” that “racism is not against the rules, but also isn’t welcome on Reddit.”

Last week, Huffman came under fire from former Reddit president Ellen Pao. In a Twitter exchange, Pao took aim at a pro-black tweet by Huffman by claiming that a lack of anti-racism and anti-extremist moderation on Reddit promoted and amplified hate speech. Reddit has removed pro-President Trump forum, r/TheDonald – which Pao specifically criticised – from its website searches and recommendations. It has also banned groups like r/blackpeoplehate and alt-right r/MillionDollarExtreme. Republican lawmakers described the action against r/TheDonald as a “progressive bludgeon” and suggested that they might seek legal advice

Ohanian’s video is also hosted on his website.

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