BELGRADE – The CEO of one of the most popular social media websites, Reddit, is facing heavy criticism from users after he admitted to secretly altering comments on a pro-Donald Trump message board.
Steve Huffman admitted to changing the content of the posts, which were directed at him, to instead show the names of the moderators of the subreddit r/The_Donald, a community within Reddit where users share images, news stories and other material related to the president-elect.
Huffman said the posts were abusive to him and he only changed them as a joke, not to censor them. The posts were later restored to their original form.
Reddit is a massive message board broken up into smaller communities called subreddits in which users can discuss and share information about a variety of topics. The pro-Trump subreddit has more than 300,000 active subscribers. The pro-Hillary Clinton subreddit, in contrast, has around 33,000 subscribers.
Huffman’s clash with r/The_Donald subscribers came after the website earlier this week banned a community called r/Pizzagate, which was made up of people who believe Hillary Clinton and her close associates are running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop in Washington, D.C.
The Pizzagate conspiracy centers on emails that were stolen and made public by WikiLeaks in which Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta and others discuss pizza. According to the theory, talk of pizza is code for pedophilia. There has been no solid evidence backing up any of the accusations against Clinton or her associates.
Reddit said it banned the community because members repeatedly posted personally identifiable information of people they accused of being involved in the pedophile ring, which is against the site’s terms of service.
James Alefantis, the manager of pizzeria Comet Ping Pong, said he has been receiving hundreds of death threats since the conspiracy began gaining traction, and asked for help on social media to stop the harassment.
In Response, Huffman, who goes by the handle u/Spez on Reddit, altered comments critical of himself as a way of coping with the stress of dealing with the fallout from Pizzagate.
“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,” Huffman wrote.
“This was a case of me trolling the trolls for a bit,” he later added.
When one Reddit user asked Huffman if had secretly altered more comments in the past, Huffman said he had not. He went on to say he would not change anymore comments in the future.
Huffman’s admission came in response to a thread on r/The_Donald in which users posted photos of the original comments next to the altered comments and accused Huffman of altering them.
Voice of America asked Reddit for comment regarding the incident, but did not receive a response before the time of publication.
The reaction from Donald Trump supporters was swift, and a petition has been created on Change.Org calling for Huffman to resign as CEO.
“The CEO of a major media company edited the comments of Trump supporters because he did not like what they had to say,” one Reddit user, who goes by the handle Velostodon, wrote in a prominent thread on r/The_Donald. “This calls into question the integrity of the website. Not in a ‘muh free speech’ sense, but in a legal sense.”
The petition, which so far has garnered just over 1,200 signatures, claims the Reddit community “has lost their trust and faith” in Huffman “due to his inability to conduct himself properly as a CEO.”
“We will not stop until we see action taken,” it reads.
Reddit’s administrators have clashed with the site’s users in the past, frequently over content that the administrators consider offensive and decide to censor. Last year, users called for the site’s former CEO Ellen Pao to be fired after she decided to ban five subreddits that were accused of harassing people on Reddit and outside of the website.
Pao eventually resigned as CEO after a brief protest on Reddit that saw many popular subreddits turn private to show their displeasure with Pao’s decision and several petitions were created calling on her to step down, the most popular of which reached 200,000 signatures.