The Editing: The Future of Reddit After Their CEO Edited User Content

There is an unfortunate misconception that Reddit is just a place to find pictures of cats and other trivial content. I see why Reddit has developed this reputation (there are many great cat pics), but it is a shame because meaningful things happen on Reddit every day.

Go to right now and you can find the following:

  • Leaders, professionals, and experts engaging communities and developing their audiences
  • Crowd-sourced Q&A dialogues with influential and fascinating people
  • “Random acts of kindness” and other various charitable acts
  • Users developing long-term relationships with each other based on shared interests

These interactions and experiences are extremely unique and valuable in an internet world that is dominated by traditional follower/following social media feeds. The developers and administrators of Reddit now have an opportunity to not only increase the quantity of meaningful interactions, but also facilitate even bigger and more valuable activities. Reddit could be a more influential space where the most important problems are solved (and they could make a lot of money doing it).

With great power, comes great responsibility and unfortunately Reddit administration continues to make decisions that prevent Reddit from being a platform for more people and bigger projects. The recent action by Reddit’s CEO, Steve Huffman, is the latest example of how Reddit holds itself back from becoming one of the most important platforms online today.

Pizzagate and “The Editing”

Pizzagate is a relatively new conspiracy theory that claims elite politicians participate in a pedophile ring being run out of a pizza shop in Washington DC. /r/Pizzagate was a Reddit community dedicated to investigating and discussing the theory.

The popularity of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory caused a wave of online harassment towards the DC pizza shop and their employees. According to Reddit administration, /r/Pizzagate was facilitating harassment and they decided to ban the community (something they have done in the past with other communities that facilitated harassment). The banning of /r/Pizzagate triggered its own wave of online harassment — directed at Reddit’s CEO, Steve Huffman.

The following two links provide basic information about the claims made by the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.

Supporters and sympathizers of Pizzagate started criticizing Huffman on Reddit, calling him a pedophile or a defender of pedophiles. At some point, Huffman snapped and decided to take an unprecedented move.

On November 23rd, 2016, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman admitted to anonymously editing a number of comments that were personally attacking him. Huffman made a series of edits that followed a pattern. He edited comments that said “fuck /u/spez” (“spez” is his username on Reddit) and replaced “spez” with the usernames of /r/The_Donald moderators. Huffman said he did this under the stress of dealing with the /r/Pizzagate controversy.

/r/The_Donald is a pro-Donald Trump community that many Reddit users believe has damaged Reddit in various ways. The /r/The_Donald community and moderators have been at odds with Reddit administration since its conception. /r/Pizzagate is largely an anti-Hillary Clinton community and was therefore associated with /r/The_Donald.

Huffman has yet to explain exactly how he edited the comments, but the general consensus is that Huffman has direct access to Reddit’s database and therefore has the ability to change any content on the site, without consulting any other Reddit employee. Huffman was actually one of the original developers of Reddit, so it is not surprising that he had this type of access.

The Implications of “The Editing

Reddit has always operated under the assumption that content would never be secretly edited by the site’s admins. Many online communities allow moderators or admins to publicly edit comments, but this has never been a feature of Reddit. Since The Editing, users and the media have questioned their trust in the platform.

It has also surfaced that Huffman edited a title 7 years ago to change the word “namefag” to “namefog”. Similar to the most recent editing, he made the edit secretly and admitted to changing it shortly after, citing “hate speech” as his justification for doing so.

For users who want to see Reddit continue to evolve and take on higher-stakes projects, The Editing has raised serious doubts about the potential of Reddit:

Can major global leaders trust Reddit to serve as a platform for communication? Politicians at the highest levels have used Reddit in the past (Barack Obama did an AMA in 2012), but the risk profile of Reddit has changed because of The Editing.

Can activists trust Reddit to serve as a platform for community organizing? Any organization with a cause that is politically incorrect or out-of-step with the personal beliefs of Reddit administrators is less likely to consider Reddit as a viable option.

Can lawyers use Reddit content as evidence? Content from social media is being used regularly as evidence in legal matters. I’m not a lawyer, but I would assume it is now much easier to discredit Reddit content in the court of law. This could have serious implications for individuals involved in both civil and criminal court cases.

Can an organization or individual hold a contest with high-value prizes on Reddit? If someone wanted to give away $1M on Reddit, their lawyers would have to consider The Editing and the associated legal risks.

What is the Future of Reddit?

The examples above illustrate how The Editing holds Reddit back from becoming an even more influential and valuable platform. Until Reddit takes action to restore trust in their administration, they will continue to be seen as a risky option for bigger projects.

For Reddit to make amends and regain its potential, Huffman most likely needs to step down as CEO. He made the mistake that hurt Reddit and his failure to see the implications of his action suggests he has a limited vision for the platform. From a practical standpoint, I do not see how he can lead the effort of restoring trust with the community.

Regardless of whether Huffman stays or leaves, Reddit must roll out a new development workflow that prevents anyone on their team from making secret edits to user content.

It has only been a week since The Editing and it seems like Reddit might just let this mistake go quietly into the night. If Reddit chooses this option, they are betting that the Reddit community will largely forget about what happened and will ignore the users that insist on reminding them. While this would likely save them short-term headaches, it could also prevent them from becoming anything more than a place to find pictures of cats.