With the eyes of the country on Mark Zuckerberg's congressional testimony this week, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman took to his site on Wednesday to inform users of the information his company has turned over to government investigators regarding Russia's efforts to spread disinformation on Reddit.
And while he was at it, he admitted relief that he wasn't in the Facebook founder's position.
A user posed the question, "On a scale of 1 to 944, how happy are you to not be Mark Zuckerberg today?" The number is a reference to the number of accounts Reddit acknowledged it had identified were associated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization involved in social media influence operations.
Huffman's response: "943: Save 1 point for my mother, who I think would enjoy watching." He said Reddit felt "somewhat vindicated" because the company has "avoided collecting personal information from the beginning." On Reddit, users are as anonymous as they choose to be; most use pseudonyms for account names. Reddit employees can monitor user IP addresses in extreme circumstances, but the company only stores that information for 100 days.
Reddit on Wednesday posted a list of the problematic Russian accounts it had identified, allowing users to dig in and see for themselves what had been posted. The accounts appear to have had varying degrees of success in spreading disinformation: Many had 0 "karma," Reddit's way of tracking engagement with posts, while 282 had amassed points.
Chris Slowe, Reddit's chief technical officer, joined the discussion to clarify that these accounts did not appear to be bots--they were run by humans. Most of the successful accounts also embarked upon normal activity on Reddit, such as sharing images on the r/pics community. One of them, ironically enough, offered advice to another user who'd seen disturbing content on Facebook on how to report it.
To locate the accounts, Reddit looked for suspicious creation patterns, usage patterns, and voting collaboration. It also corroborated its findings with public lists of suspect accounts, such as one Twitter had published.
During the discussion, Huffman addressed a wide range of other questions from users regarding issues of privacy, foreign advertising, how Reddit complies with assorted government requests, and site functionality.
He noted several developments on Reddit over the past year, including that its former and longtime back-end infrastructure has been overhauled, and that a site redesign is being deployed. It's been a year of great drama in terms of community rules and content, as Reddit banned gun sales and cracked down on content advocating violence against individuals or groups.
But when one user asked: "Is obvious open racism, including slurs, against reddits [sic] rules or not?" Huffman drew some ire for stating, "It's not. On Reddit, the way ... we think about speech is to separate behavior from beliefs." He noted that moderators of individual communities on Reddit can set their own standards for what speech is allowed.
Multiple news outlets called out the CEO's sentiment, which is consistent with the site's past policies. The Sun in the U.K. wrote that Huffman's comment "sparks fury."
Zuckerberg, on Capitol Hill, addressed hate speech as well. He said that while the company had found success using artificial intelligence to block terrorist propaganda, policing hate speech through algorithms is more difficult. "Determining if something is hate speech is very linguistically nuanced," he said, noting that "the error rate is high."
To that end, he said by the end of the year Facebook will employ 20,000 humans to review content that is flagged by users. "But, today, we're just not there on that. So a lot of this is still reactive. People flag it to us. We have people look at it," he said. "We have policies to try to make it as not subjective as possible."