The chief executive of Reddit has admitted to secretly editing user comments that insulted him.
Steve Huffman, who co-founded the site back in 2005, spoke out after facing a barrage of abuse from users of a politically-charged section of the website called r/the_donald – a pro-Donald Trump group that often discusses conspiracy theories.
Earlier in the week Reddit banned a subreddit called r/pizzagate which was made by users to discuss a strange conspiracy that claimed to link Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta to an underground paedophile ring run out of a Washington-based pizza restaurant.
Huffman, who uses the pseudonym 'spez' on Reddit, conceded on 23 November that he used his privileged position at the company to make references to his own username redirect back to the moderators of r/the_donald.
"I messed with the 'f--k u/spez' comments, replacing 'spez' with r/the_donald mods for about an hour," Huffman said. "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 paedophile constantly."
On 21 November, the New York Times published an in-depth article about the so-called pizzagate controversy. James Alefantis, owner of the shop in question, called Comet Ping Pong, noted: "From this insane, fabricated conspiracy theory, we've come under constant assault."
The conspiracy sparked to life following the WikiLeaks publication of Podesta's emails. Users on 4Chan uncovered a conversation between Alefantis and Podesta about a fund-raiser and eventually made the leap that Clinton and the shop were linked to a child-trafficking ring.
For his part, Huffman appeared to note he was aware he had overstepped the line. He said: "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."
Yet following Huffman's acknowledgement that he edited user posts, the reaction on Reddit was swift. One commenter said: "This calls into question all of Reddit's security protocols. How many other reddit employees have root level access to the database, and are able to make any change without consulting with another employee?"
Another added: "This is a breach of trust between Reddit and the user base [...] It brings in to question all other posts, and also brings to question potential conflicts of interest where you or other executives may edit content you have a personal issue with."
The controversy comes amid the rising conversations over the spread and influence of fake news online, especially on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. Recently, US president Barack Obama spoke out about the phenomenon, saying: "If we can't discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems."