Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian just resigned from the company's board and asked to be replaced with a black board member. He also pledged to use future profits on his Reddit shares to support racial equality and to donate $1 million to Colin Kaepernick's Know Your Rights campaign.
In a video posted to Twitter, Ohanian explains his decision. "I'm doing this for me, for my family, and for my country," he says. "I'm saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks, 'What did you do?'" Ohanian is married to tennis champion Serena Williams, and the couple have a 2-year-old daughter. "I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now," he concludes. "And to everyone fighting to fix our broken nation, do not stop."
Ohanian, who left and rejoined Reddit since its 2005 sale to Condé Nast, stepped down from day-to-day management in 2018, but remained executive chairman of the board. In a Reddit post responding to the resignation, Steve Huffman, the company's other co-founder and its CEO, thanked Ohanian for his "meaningful gesture" and promised to honor his request to replace him with a black board member.
Ohanian's departure comes at a tricky time for Reddit. The platform was built on the principle of unfettered free speech, a philosophy that's been problematic in recent years, as Reddit has become a home for racist and pro-violence hate groups. The company responded in 2017 with a new policy forbidding content that constitutes bullying or harassment, or that encourages violence. But the new policy does not expressly forbid racism or hate speech and it did little to change Reddit's reputation as a haven for hate. The site "quarantined" a controversial subreddit called r/the_donald for encouraging violence, but many believe it should have been banned instead.
Reddit moderators protest.
On Monday, like countless other corporate leaders, Huffman posted a statement in response to the weekend's protests lamenting racism and pledging to be part of the solution. That statement was met with skepticism by some, including former CEO Ellen Pao, who claimed in a tweet that Reddit "nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long."
Then on Wednesday, moderators of several popular subreddits, including r/NFL, either took them private or blocked new posts to protest both the killing of George Floyd and Reddit's hate speech policies, seen as overly permissive. The shutdowns lasted for either one day or for 8 minutes 46 seconds, the amount of time a police officer knelt on Floyd's neck.
Against this backdrop of community unrest, Huffman has engaged in public soul-searching, and Ohanian has chosen to leave. The yet-to-be-named black board member who replaces him will face a very tough job, trying to balance the value of Reddit's anything-goes traditions against the real-world harm online hate speech can do. Let's hope he or she can help make the platform better for everyone.