In 2015, the Southern Poverty Law Center called out Reddit as home to “the most violently racist” content on the internet, citing a constellation of antiblack forums, or subreddits, that had adopted the name “the Chimpire” and racked up tens of thousands of members before they were taken down that year. Reddit’s content policy prohibits inciting violence, as well as bullying and harassment, but it has never been very specific about where the lines are drawn. In 2018, when Reddit CEO Steve Huffman was asked about whether “obvious open racism” was against the company’s rules, he said, “It’s not.”
Huffman backtracked at the time, vaguely saying that racism was allowed but not welcome. Then, last week, he made a company-wide announcement under a headline that included the phrase Black lives matter, and claimed that “our values are clear.” Reddit employees and users, he said, “do not tolerate hate, racism, and violence”—a statement that sparked a major revolt on the site.
Almost immediately, the post was met with backlash, including a particularly sharp rebuke from Reddit’s former interim CEO Ellen Pao, who was subject to prolonged, user-led, racist harassment campaigns during her time at the company, largely because of her attempts to curb hate speech on the platform. But the strongest criticism of all came from Reddit’s own users: On Monday morning, an open letter to Huffman was posted all over the site, urging the company to take racism more seriously. “The problem of Reddit’s leadership supporting and providing a platform for racist users and hateful communities has long been an issue,” it began, before listing demands, including the proactive banning of hateful communities and “a sitewide policy against racism, slurs, and hate speech.” (Huffman responded to the letter in the post’s comments, writing in part, “Your list and our list have a high amount of overlap.” A Reddit spokesperson declined to comment further.)