Reddit CEO Steve Huffman has publicly admitted to editing user comments on the Donald Trump subreddit community, a revelation that could seriously impact the community’s trust in the administration staff. Huffman has been handling the closure of a Clinton conspiracy-centered subreddit that was causing a pizza restaurant owner to receive death threats. Following the closure, the CEO received a number of abusive comments directed towards his “spez” username, so he decided to replace his username in the comments with that of Trump subreddit moderators.
“Yep. I messed with the “fuck u/spez” comments, replacing “spez” with r/the_donald mods for about an hour.” Huffman wrote in a comment on the “The_Donald” subreddit on Thursday. “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 pedophile constantly. 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.”
It’s hard to know, at this early stage, how much damage the revelation will have on community relations. On a separate subreddit, dedicated to documenting on-site drama, users were shocked that an administrator would make such a move on a whim, leading to questions about how else the staff may have manipulated the site.
“It makes me realize that they probably fuck with all sorts of things,” said user “uabroacirebuctityphe”. “Which subs hit the front page, which content should be pushed down. I bet advertisers have them push video game posts, movie trailers, AMAs, and other products. There was very little trust before — now there’s zero.”
Tensions grew between the Trump subreddit and administration staff after “pizzagate” was shut down on Wednesday. The subreddit was dedicated to a conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton had been using a New York pizza restaurant called Comet Ping Pong for molesting and trafficking children. None of it was true, but owner James Alefantis had been receiving abusive messages from people, some of which were threatening to kill him.
When the “pizzagate” subreddit was banned, the staff left a notice in its place explaining that the subreddit was sharing personal and confidential information, a violation of the site’s terms. In response, Trump subreddit moderator “OhSnapYouGotServed” posted an announcement reminding people that a lot of “pizzagate” subscribers also subscribe to “The_Donald,” and while the two were not affiliated, it was a reminder of why posting personal information on the subreddit is strictly forbidden.
The announcement led to a number of comments directed at Huffman, but “OhSnapYouGotServed” noticed something was wrong. Comparing archived versions of the web page, the moderator noticed comments had been changing. “OhSnapYouGotServed” posted the findings in a new announcement, where Huffman confessed.
Yishan Wong, who served as Reddit CEO from March 2012 to November 2014, defended Huffman in the drama-themed subreddit. “I actually have 100% sympathy for spez,” Wong said. “I knew him the entire time I was in the job myself, and he was one of the calmest and most even-keeled people I’d ever met. The fact that he tipped into doing something unwise is (to me) more a testament of how shitty the users in that sub must’ve been on a prolonged and sustained basis.”
Although Wong sympathized with his former colleague, it seemed like he did not envy him. “This week I can be thankful for not being the CEO of reddit,” he said.