Is Reddit Going PC?

CEO: ‘Not our site’s goal to be completely free-speech platform.’

Reddit — a “site known for open and often over-the-top discussion” — has come under the hands of PC warriors.

One user, or “redditor,” once called the online discussion forum a “place friendly to thought, relationships, arguments, and to those that wish to challenge those genres.” Yet, recently, redditors feel their speech has been censored and their trust has been breached.  

In June, Interim CEO Ellen Pao shut down specific forums on topics deemed offensive, including fat-shaming, transphobia and racism discussions. This directly followed an anti-harassment policy adopted in May, which some users felt curtailed their rights to freedom of speech. Indeed, Pao’s declaration that “it’s not our site’s goal to be a completely free-speech platform” was a direct turn-around from the views of her predecessor, who stated “we will not ban questionable subreddits … You choose what to post. You choose what to read.” 

Last week, chaos ensued when beloved director of talent Victoria Taylor was quietly let go. This shook volunteer moderators who relied heavily on Taylor’s assistance. So, in response, they shut down 300 discussion subforums to protest what they saw as poor communication, lack of support and corporate takeover of the user-controlled, democratic structure of the site. 

Speculation over Taylor’s dismissal has been widespread. Pao told NPR that “we don’t talk about individual employees,” but that the discharge came as a result of “transition” in the company. Some news outlets have reported that Taylor refused to go along with proposed changes that would have increased profit while less effectively meeting the needs of the user base. 

Taylor had been responsible for the popular “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) feature, which let redditors ask famous people an assortment of questions over the forum. The fact that Taylor’s dismissal directly followed an AMA conducted with Rev. Jesse Jackson generated suspicion. Many redditors had taken to the forum to criticize Jackson, and the discussion quickly went sour. 

Yet, although Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian insists that the Jackson AMA was not the cause of Taylor’s discharge, the PC trending through the corporate structure make this hard to believe.  

In an apology that many redditors have felt is insincere, Pao wrote “We haven’t communicated well, and we have surprised moderators and the community with big changes.” After proposing changes in tools, communication and search functions, Pao declared “I know these are just words, and it may be hard for you to believe us … I mean it when I say we screwed up, and we want to have a meaningful ongoing discussion.” 

But those meaningful, ongoing discussions must be PC and offense-free.