Reddit's co-founder and CEO, Steve Huffman, seems to be at odds with the dynamics of his platform — which boasts over 50 million daily readers — and has gone to war with the site's main contributors.
The Reddit model thrives on the work of unpaid individuals moderating its thousands of subreddits, thereby attracting millions of equally engaged users. However, Huffman seems to have struck a wrong chord with these core contributors, likening them to an unaccountable landed gentry and hinting at the possibility of removing them.
According to a report from the Washington Post, Huffman made remarks about the lack of accountability for subreddit moderators, drawing comparisons to politicians and business owners who are accountable to their constituents and shareholders, respectively. He critiqued Reddit's existing model where early moderators hold significant control and can pass on their authority, terming it undemocratic.
“If you’re a politician or a business owner, you are accountable to your constituents. So a politician needs to be elected, and a business owner can be fired by its shareholders,” Huffman told NBC, per the outlet. “And I think, on Reddit, the analogy is closer to the landed gentry: The people who get there first get to stay there and pass it down to their descendants, and that is not democratic.”
His comments didn't sit well with the moderators, leading to a major protest against Reddit's plan to levy a hefty charge on third-party apps for accessing its data. Such a move would potentially lead to the shutdown of popular apps like Apollo, Reddit is Fun, and Sync, causing thousands of subreddits to go private and blocking access to regular users. Although the protest was meant to last for 48 hours, some moderators have decided to extend the blackout until the issue is resolved.
In response to the blackout, Huffman reportedly reassured employees in an internal memo that the current uproar, like previous ones, would pass, underscoring the importance of enhancing the platform's product.
However, after Huffman's controversial remarks regarding moderator removal, Reddit issued a clarification. Reddit spokesman Tim Rathschmidt assured the Post that Huffman's comments had been misconstrued and there was no plan to displace protesting moderators or take over subreddits. “Steve did not confirm we are moving in this direction,” said the spokesman.
Yet, the moderators remain resolute. The group orchestrating the blackout expressed their disappointment over Reddit's poor communication regarding their data access charge plan. They argue that Reddit's sudden decision, with just a month's notice, has created unnecessary friction.
Adding to the confusion, Huffman stated that Reddit was not profitable, claiming it could no longer subsidize commercial entities requiring large-scale data use. This seems in stark contrast to Reddit's $10 billion valuation and its $1 billion fundraising haul in August 2021. Moderators and users alike are waiting to see how the CEO navigates this conundrum.