Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman has vowed to crack down on online harassment by banning or suspending "toxic users" on its platform that harass others, including those who recently targeted him. Last week, the executive admitted to editing comments on a popular pro-Trump subreddit which triggered sharp criticism from users.
Huffman told Reuters that although Reddit does have a content policy that prohibits abusive behaviour and harassment on its platform, it has not been enforced well.
"Personal message harassment is the most cut and dry," Huffman said. "Right now we are in an interesting position where my inbox is full of them, so it's easy to start with me."
Going by the handle Spez, the chief executive said that he used administrative privileges to alter users' abusive comments that criticised him in the popular pro-Trump subreddit r/The_Donald. He edited them to look as if they were targeting the community's moderators.
In addition to voicing support for the President-elect, the forum also features a cacophony of sexist, racist and Islamophobic slurs, fake news stories and conspiracy theories.
While Huffman claimed his edits were a joke, his revelation sparked fierce backlash from users saying his actions were a serious violation of the social media platform's policies.
In a Reddit post on 30 November, he apologised for attempting to "troll the trolls".
"I f****d up. I ruined Thanksgiving," Huffman wrote in the post. "I am sorry for compromising the trust you all have in Reddit, and I am sorry to those that I created work and stress for, particularly over the holidays. It is heartbreaking to think that my actions distracted people from their family over the holiday; instigated harassment of our moderators; and may have harmed Reddit itself, which I love more than just about anything."
He added while that many users who found his actions to be funny and supported him for "standing up to the bullies", there were some who did not.
"I understand what I did has greater implications than my relationship with one community, and it is fair to raise the question of whether this erodes trust in Reddit," Huffman wrote. "I hope our transparency around this event is an indication that we take matters of trust seriously.
"I will never risk your trust like this again, and we are updating our internal controls to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future."
Noting that he received many requests to ban the r/The_Donald subreddit, he resisted to do so in the "spirit of healing".
"More than anything, I want Reddit to heal, and I want our country to heal," Huffman wrote. "If there is anything about this election that we have learned, it is that there are communities that feel alienated and just want to be heard, and Reddit has always been a place where those voices can be heard."
However, he reiterated that the company will not tolerate bad behaviour and toxic users on its platform and will now take a "more proactive approach" to combat such behaviour, including implementing warnings, timeouts and permanent bans on the platform's "most toxic users". If the situation does not improve, the company will ban communities that violate its anti-harassment policies, he stressed.
Reddit recently banned a subreddit called Pizzagate devoted to a conspiracy theory that linked Hillary Clinton and Democrats to a secret child trafficking ring at a pizza shop in Washington, but had no evidence to support it. It was banned by Reddit for repeatedly posting people's personal information on the board in violation of the platform's policies.
"We don't want to be censoring political beliefs, but then they do misbehave. That's why we have worked so closely with the r/The_Donald community. We tell them: don't force us to ban you," Huffman told Reuters.
He further said that the first wave of bans will likely include many members of that forum since "that is a catalyst for a lot of this right now. That community is stirred up."