Reddit CEO says COVID misinformation is “the foundation of democracy”

Steve Huffman dismissed calls to purge the site of misinformation.

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Reddit won’t purge its site of COVID-19 disinformation, according to CEO Steve Huffman. In a post on r/announcements, he argued that “dissent is a part of Reddit and the foundation of democracy,” and that it supports conversations that disagree with popular consensus. Vice earlier reported on the comments.

Huffman’s comments came following the move by a group of popular subreddits to protest Reddit’s inaction. “It is clear that even after promising to tackle the problem of misinformation on this site, nothing of substance has been done aside from quarantining a medium sized subreddit, which barely reduces traffic and does little to stop misinformation,” read a post from one moderator announcing the protest, which was co-signed and reposted by a series of other subreddits.

Reddit CEO, Steve Huffman.Horacio Villalobos/Corbis News/Getty Images

That’s rich — Reddit does take some actions to address misinformation, particularly limiting the distribution of subreddits that frequently discuss COVID-19 conspiracy theories. It also places a warning in “quarantined” communities, telling visitors that they may encounter unsound advice. But anyone can get to these subreddits just by clicking through a warning, and it seems unlikely that people actually pay much attention to them.

In that context, it feels a bit hypocritical for Huffman to on the one hand say it supports free speech and discussion, and on the other, it’s suppressing certain content that it acknowledges may be dangerous. Consider also that it completely banned r/The_Donald for inciting violence.

Maybe Reddit just doesn’t want to deal with the fallout if it were to nuke anti-vaxxers.

Subreddits — Reddit perhaps gets less attention for its misinformation problem than other platforms because communities are siloed in their own subreddits, and harmful content doesn’t tend to bleed over from toxic subreddits into other ones. But people can still find all of this anti-vax content, and Reddit is saying it won’t do anything to stop that despite a rise in the Delta variant that has led to increased hospitalizations and deaths.