How big can a company grow without accepting any obligation to behave in a socially responsible way?
Whatever the limit is, Reddit wants to be bigger. In a major policy reversal, the social content-sharing platform will start allowing people to get nude or sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves removed from the site.
The change comes six months after "The Fappening," the bloggy nickname given to an incident in which stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and other celebrities drew millions of visitors--and widespread condemnation--to the site.
Reddit's CEO at the time, Yishan Wong, defended the company's handling of that episode on philosophical grounds, saying it had behaved in a way that balanced copyright law with a commitment to the First Amendment and libertarian principles.
"You choose what to post. You choose what to read," Wong wrote. "Virtuous behavior is only virtuous if it is not arrived at by compulsion. This is a central idea of the community we are trying to create."
But Wong is gone now. In his place is interim CEO Ellen Pao, who is making headlines this week by going to trial in a sexual harassment lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, one of Silicon Valley's biggest and most respected venture capital firms.
The timing is coincidental, no doubt. But it can't hurt her prospects in that case for Pao to be seen as someone who's working to reform a culture of tech geeks who think women exist to be objectified.
In a post announcing the new policy, Reddit's co-founder and executive chairman, Alexis Ohanian, who returned to the company full time in November, struck a tone that diverged sharply with Wong's free-speech-Ã¼ber-alles rhetoric.
"Last year, we missed a chance to be a leader in social media when it comes to protecting your privacy--something we've cared deeply about since Reddit's inception," Ohanian wrote.
He went on to say: "No matter who you are, if a photograph, video, or digital image of you in a state of nudity, sexual excitement, or engaged in any act of sexual conduct, is posted or linked to on Reddit without your permission, it is prohibited on Reddit. We also recognize that violent personalized images are a form of harassment that we do not tolerate, and we will remove them when notified."