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Reddit CEO Steve Huffman: I Screwed Up and I Want Reddit To Trust Me Again (cnbc.com) 410

The most anxious day of Reddit CEO Steve Huffman's life, he says, was showing up to work on the Monday after Thanksgiving this year. The week before, he had thrown the company into a minor political crisis. From a CNBC report: After weeks being antagonized by the users of Reddit communities like /r/The_Donald and /r/pizzagate, Huffman had covertly edited messages posted by other users that were critical of him, to instead be critical of those communities' leaders. On the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Huffman said he conceived this as a prank, "in the spirit of fun." "I figured, I'm just going to mess with these bullies, and I actually have the capability of messing with them, so I'll do so," Huffman said. "I wanted to do something. I didn't do the right thing, but that was my mentality." Huffman says the aftermath of this "prank," users questioning whether their posts had ever been edited without their consent in the past, was "devastating," and that he knows it will take time to rebuild trust within the community. At an all-hands staff meeting on that anxious Monday, he apologized directly to Reddit's staff and said he wanted them all to be proud to work there.
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Reddit CEO Steve Huffman: I Screwed Up and I Want Reddit To Trust Me Again

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  • by casings ( 257363 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @03:52PM (#53471345)

    There is no coming back from this. Until he decides to leave, trust cannot be rebuilt.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      If making relatively minor edits to a few inconsequential posts insulting him, then admitting it and repeatedly apologising and swearing he will never do it again isn't enough, then maybe it's not worth trying to regain the trust of people who feel that way.

      It's the standard Reddit conspiracy theory. Something minor blow out of all proportion. Just like the last several times it's a sure sign that Reddit is dead and everyone is busy signing up for Voat.

      • by iMadeGhostzilla ( 1851560 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @04:13PM (#53471529)

        It's not minor if you have to wonder with every post if it's going to be altered or hidden or deleted, you'd just take your time elsewhere. E.g. if it were happening here, I wouldn't bother posting.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          How do you know it's not happening here?

          It came to light pretty fast on Reddit. I'm sure it would come to light pretty fast here too. What makes you so sure that /. posts are not edited, while you "have to wonder" over on Reddit?

          • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @05:06PM (#53471971)
            That was my first thought upon reading OP's post too. Huffmann may have actually done the world a favor. He's opened people's eyes to the possibility that this type of behind-the-curtain manipulation can happen; something the tech community has been trying for years without success to warn the general public about with respect to electronic voting machines.

            If we're lucky, this will kick off a wave of forum sites coming up with clever hash systems allowing you to confirm that the message you posted on a forum has not been altered. And the best of these systems could trickle down into a way to confirm that a ballot you cast on an electronic voting machine has not been tampered with.
          • I don't but I have no reason to suspect, yet. Redditers clearly do. It's that doubt that kills the motivation. If we ever get a proof that it happens here, I'll probably never post again.

        • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @04:53PM (#53471849) Journal

          It's not minor if you have to wonder with every post if it's going to be altered or hidden or deleted, you'd just take your time elsewhere. E.g. if it were happening here, I wouldn't bother posting.

          It's not even that. The worst thing is that you cannot trust that anything you see someone saying, was actually said by him/her.
          That's a much, much more grave issue than having your post hidden or deleted.

        • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @05:07PM (#53471983) Homepage Journal

          if you have to wonder with every post if it's going to be altered or hidden or deleted

          Indeed on the first of those three (given they've been hiding and deleting posts for the entire time Reddit has existed, to what extent does that weigh on the mind of any Redditor?)

          Now, now many Redditors are actually wondering if their posts are going to be altered? Any?

          The circumstances /u/spez altered posts with were exceptional. It may not have been right to alter them (the correct response would have been to delete them and ban the posters) but no sane person would be expecting their own posts to be similarly altered unless they were in the same ballpark.

          So, no, I'm not worried that /u/spez is about to edit any of my posts. No sane person is - no sane person who isn't accusing him of pedophilia, at any rate.

          • You are a fool, or a clever public media spin doctor. No one thinks /u/spez is going to modify their posts. But they are totally aware that government or corporate psy ops departments are capable of modifying or burying their posted speech, in order to manipulate a public consensus. That's why no one believes a corporate product forum when its known they delete negative statements against a product or the company. Tough luck reddit shareholders.

      • by LeftCoastThinker ( 4697521 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @04:33PM (#53471673)

        The problem isn't really the editing of a few posts, the problem is the fact that he can, unilaterally, go in and edit other people's posts. It is only a conspiracy theory until it is proven true. The fact that he did this shows that not only could it be done, but it was done, thus, no longer a conspiracy theory, it is proven fact. The motivation and trying to play it off as a joke because he got caught are also telling. The fact that he thought he could do this makes it likely that it was done in the past, but that he/they got away with it. It would be easy to destroy a person's online reputation in this manner. It is the online equivalent of identity theft.

        At a minimum, to restore trust, they need to implement a policy where posts cannot and will not ever be edited by anyone other than the author, and any employee who does will be immediately terminated, regardless of rank. Also implement some software that only allows employees to delete posts, not edit them. Add a method for the software to verify that the post is being edited by the true user and not an employee and if an employee attempts an edit of a post, the original author gets an automated email as well as the entire company describing the infraction along with date, time, ip, user login, original and modified post, etc.

        • Read how to discredit your rivals. Use "conspiracy" (as in "vast right-wing conspiracy") to explain why what you said/did wasn't what you said/did. Alternatively, when others use "conspiracy" against you (regardless of your involvement in said conspiracy) point out of fucking stupid it is to follow with "those crazy people".

          You can apply this to just about every conspiracy theory out there, if you want to believe ... THERE IS A CONSPIRACY!!!, if you don't its ... THOSE CRAZY PEOPLE.

          Really convenient once yo

          • by Xenographic ( 557057 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @05:16PM (#53472053) Journal

            The Russian hacker thing is especially bad because I've seen how many people can't comprehend that there are no less than 3 different leaks in play here. Or especially they conflate Hillary's private email server with the DNC leaks. Yes, there probably are some emails common to all the dumps--Podesta certainly emailed Hillary & the DNC and vice versa--but they could not have been obtained all in the same way, as we will see below:

            Hillary's emails

            Allegedly hacked from her home server, but we have no logs of this. She turned over paper copies. Some redacted emails (on paper) were released by the FBI. This has never been fully turned over to the public (or to the people investigating Benghazi). Trump joked that Russia (or whoever) could always release these after the fact, but nobody ever has released them all, including Hillary herself. We have posts by /u/stonetear on Reddit, who was a staffer there, talking about selectively wiping emails in the right time frame. All of this is public evidence that has been seen (and archived) by many people, unless someone wants to claim that /u/Spez edited that in to make Hillary look bad :)

            Podesta's Gmail account

            This was hacked by a very simply spear phishing email [wikileaks.org]. It's DKIM validated by both Hillary & Google's servers, so anyone claiming this is fake can be proven wrong mathematically. Google signs them with the b and bh parameters (body & body hash) so no, it doesn't just cover the headers, but the body too. And no, there is a way to revoke the keys. Go look up the selector in the DKIM header if you know how, both keys are still there as of right now.

            We also have good reason to believe they fell for this, both because we can see the staff saying this is real and because bit.ly has that link being clicked on twice in the relevant time frame as you can see from their stats page for the link: https://bitly.com/1PibSU0+ [bitly.com]

            That bit.ly link resolves to a .TK URL the lameness filter hates which is obviously fake. You can see it from the previous stats page if you're curious. The TK domain is Tokelau, which a territory of New Zealand, if you were wondering. The phishing email itself claims there were hack attempts from the Ukraine.

            DNC Leaks

            This is alleged to have been leaked by a DNC insider. Wikileaks pointed out the suspicious death of DNC intern Seth Rich who was murdered but not robbed in the middle of the night. They have put up a reward for information on his killer(s). At this time, no one has been identified as the leaker, though there are a lot of stories quoting anonymous insiders claiming circumstantial evidence. There was also the 17 agencies of the USIC (i.e., the Coast Guard & co.) whose director put out a statement saying this was exactly the kind of thing Russia might do, but they did not give any specific evidence therein.

            You can find more discussion about that here: https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2016/12/cias-absence-conviction/ [craigmurray.org.uk]

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Did people really think that Reddit staff couldn't edit posts?

          How would that even work? How would your proposal work, from a technical perspective? Seems impossible to not have admins with full access to the database.

          • by fizzup ( 788545 )

            Digital signatures on every post would work. It would make the site harder to use though, since you would have to share your private key with every machine you post from (even your phone) and it's not easy to implement it in a browser. Not great, but maybe it doesn't quite meet the "impossible" label.

        • In the long term, the only real way to deal with this is for people to sign their posts [gnupg.org] with public-key encryption.

          Of course, even then you can only detect tampering, not outright censorship/deletion. The only way to fix that is by moving back to a decentralized system out of the control of any particular person, like Usenet.

        • by orlanz ( 882574 )

          Are you actually being serious? They are online posts! These aren't someone's Doctoral thesis. They are random opinions and discussions of random people around the world in a public setting behind user IDs. People actually believe that a private company's staff doesn't have the ability to edit the content generated by the users of their services?

          What are you going to do, have a private/public key for every account and have it signed for each and every post. Each user has a browser plugin wasting comput

      • by MrLint ( 519792 )
        Which part of a CEO mentality is ok to go in and edit the DB? The excuse of 'well I'm the engineer' doesn't cut it. The shoot from the hip, 'cowboy' startup mentality is what will end up dooming Reddit; spez' actions are merely the consequence. Reddit should no longer be in the 'startup' mentality. It is this kind of "I'm gonna fuck with my detractors BS that is the hallmark of the egoist, not the high level otherwise detached management of the CEO. Perhaps he should just have a twitter spat, ya know like
      • He did not admit that he made the edits. He was busted talking about it with friends.
      • Not minor edits, and not a prank.

        He did this to a thread linked up by a big newspaper article that drew lots of attention. He specifically edited posts that many people were going to see, and he edited them to make them look like the users of The_Donald hated the mods of The_Donald and thought they were crazy.

        This was not him blowing off steam. This was not a harmless prank. This was a calculated and planned attempt to discredit, divide and slander a large group with political opinions that he doesn't li

    • by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @04:19PM (#53471577) Journal

      When I started my first "proper" job fresh out of university, my first boss told me:

      "Your reputation can recover from even spectacular incompetence if you look apologetic and keep your head down for a year or two at most. The moment you lose your integrity, it's gone for life."

      Would be a better story if he hadn't been fired and referred to the police a few years later for fiddling money from consultancy contracts.

    • I'm actually happy to see people learn from their errors. I would trust him much more than anyone else. He recognized what he did, he recognized his error. He knows he'll have no other chance now.

      On the other hand, I'm sad to see every other guy call for resignation every time someone makes a mistake. It is actually the opposite : someone who did a mistake and suffered from it will never make it again. So that guy is now better and smarter ... why should he resign ?

      • He recognized what he did, he recognized his error.

        You grossly misspelled "He recognized that he got caught red-handed" up there.

        Sorry, but there's no trust to be salvaged from that one.

        (...and why the fuck was a CEO even given database/middleware access, anyway? Doesn't he have more important shit to do, like you know, run the company?)

    • by kuzb ( 724081 )
      Exactly this. Communities like that do not forgive, and they do not forget. Just ask Ellen Pao.
    • Not going to argue that people might feel they lose trust from this. But the point is, he took this action because he had already lost trust. People were going around knowingly telling lies that people (CEO) were pedophiles. That kind of discourse is not the basis for trustful community which respects norms. The people who did that have zero grounds to complain because they already ruined it.
  • Lucky he is CEO. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PlusFiveTroll ( 754249 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @03:52PM (#53471347) Homepage

    If I did this as an employee, I'd be fired on the spot.

    • by zoloto ( 586738 )
      can you imagine if Commander Taco did this back in the day? We'd have had his head on a virtual pike. I wonder if Mr. Malda (https://twitter.com/cmdrtaco) would care to comment.
  • too late (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    everybody head on over to voat. reddit sucks. reddit's the new digg

  • by magarity ( 164372 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @03:55PM (#53471377)

    People who disagree with your political position are not "bullies" that you need to do something like this just because you have the capability. This thinking leads to single party police states.

    • by irving47 ( 73147 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @04:03PM (#53471465) Homepage

      He did this to people calling him a pedophile, not people he discovered that voted the way he didn't want.

      • It doesn't matter what they called him. He demonstrated that Reddit Admins/CEOs have editorial control over the content posted on their website.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org].

        The court held that although CompuServe did host defamatory content on its forums, CompuServe was merely a distributor, rather than a publisher, of the content. As a distributor, CompuServe could only be held liable for defamation if it knew, or had reason to know, of the defamatory nature of the content.

        The court held that "CompuServe has no more editorial control over such a publication than does a public library, book store, or newsstand, and it would be no more feasible for CompuServe to examine every publication it carries for potentially defamatory statements than it would be for any other distributor to do so."

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ClickOnThis ( 137803 )

      People who disagree with your political position are not "bullies" that you need to do something like this just because you have the capability.

      What about Slashdot moderators who down-mod insightful, civil, fact-based posts as "Troll" just because they disagree with them?

      • That's different. The rules of what happens to your posts are clear and known to all.

        • by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @04:17PM (#53471557) Journal

          My point is that moderators who abuse their power and don't follow moderator guidelines are acting like the "bullies" the OP mentions.

          • by OhPlz ( 168413 )

            Not a good point because that behavior does drive people away. Presumably meta-moderation is supposed to counter that type of behavior, but I do wonder how many people ever take the time to do so.

          • Sure, but that is a case of bullies who have the exact some power of those they bully. It's two people with the same abilities having a row. Instead of Reddit's case of a bully squashing ants.

    • This. His speech portrays a very bad picture of himself. As the only one with any power, it is everyone else who are bullies, and he is just trying to do good.

  • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @03:56PM (#53471391)

    We paying reddit users want his head on a pike; fire his ass

    • by guises ( 2423402 )
      There are paying Reddit users?

      This is a crappy reason to fire the guy. He's been purging Reddit of unwanted communities ever since he took over and people (mostly) weren't calling for his head then. This is comparatively trivial, and given that he's fessed up about it and we know all of the comments that he edited and he's promised not to do it anymore...

      Meh. Rather than continuing to make a fuss over this, it seems like it would be more constructive to move on to someplace else. Leave Reddit to the m
    • We paying reddit users want his head on a pike; fire his ass

      To be fair, the users are paying (advertisers), albeit with their eyeballs...

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @03:59PM (#53471403)
    Then redditors will realize things aren't so bad and ask him back.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 12, 2016 @03:59PM (#53471411)

    I stopped going to Reddit a week before this happened. There was a palpable feeling to the website that a lot of views were no longer welcome. What happened to the freedom of speech?

    I really can't say what happened to Reddit but I have some thoughts. If you go to the smaller sub reddits they are great. But anything with a large amount of people becomes ridiculously political. You can't even say anything or have a discussion without someone attempting to force you to find a source for every little thing you say.

    People need to learn how to just talk to each other again. That is where my mind goes.

    Throw all this BS with the people leading reddit into the mix and you're finding people are now realizing the internet has limits. Yeah we can unite behind causes easier but people are still people. Coming up with names like trolls and fake news isn't going to stop people from being people. They talk. They spread information and half the time it isn't accurate. How is that any different then what goes on in most groups at school, work every day?

  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @03:59PM (#53471415) Journal

    This isn't some legal filing server, or your email provider. It's a fucking web forum. And one that lets you use it for free. If the CEO if a dick, take your eyeballs and go elsewhere*.

    *Please

    • Well, let's not delude ourselves. You can use it without cash but it's certainly not free, their revenue comes from somewhere and it's not all from gold members.

  • The Right Thing (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 12, 2016 @04:02PM (#53471447)

    'The Right Thing' is not to mess with people's speech, even if it disagrees with your political views. This is SOP for the left-leaning these days, and yet they wonder why hillary lost to donald trump of all people.

    Now, you have the right to do whatever you want on your platform, but that doesn't necessarily make it 'The Right Thing' to do. This isn't the first time social media has tried to modify narratives of users.

    0 sympathy.

    • by Boronx ( 228853 )

      Go to any city council meeting and act a shitlord. See how long your right to free speech keeps them from throwing you out.

  • by taustin ( 171655 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @04:05PM (#53471479) Homepage Journal

    Er, no, dude, it wasn't in the spirit of fun. If it were, you would have seen the criticism of you as being in the spirit of fun. But that criticism was malice, and your response was malicious. It was in the spiriting of being an asshole.

    Apology rejected.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @04:09PM (#53471503)

    ... and that he knows it will take time to rebuild trust within the community....

    A person's integrity is destroyed in seconds, yet can take years to rebuild. I am not sure he can regain the users' trust in a time period he would like.

  • "I was just joking!"

    ...

    That sounds kinda childish to offer "it was just a prank" as an excuse.

  • This kind of thing doesn't happen on slashdot isn't it?
    • Ah goddamit, and my "humorous" inserts got eaten in the parsing. Bah... talk about spoiling a perfectly good joke. That will teach me not to use "preview".

  • by oldmacdonald ( 80995 ) <johnasmolin@@@aim...com> on Monday December 12, 2016 @04:32PM (#53471671)

    If you care about what you say on the internet not being changed, use a digital signature.

    • Out of the 174 posts on this thread (at the time of writing), there are only five mentioning the words [GPG|PGP|signature|encryption]. This is Slashdot, for crying out loud -- half the thread should be talking about that stuff!

  • by anthony_greer ( 2623521 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @04:34PM (#53471681)

    the idea of the first amendment was that anyone can say anything on the public square, but online the "public" square is all privately owned by mostly large companies based in the Sanfrancisco or San Jose region and run by people who are predominately liberal. They are free to run their businesses as they and their shareholders see fit, but with so much of life hapnenning online, where are we supposed to have the "public square" if anyone with differant ideas gets treated badly or labeled "hate speech" or "fake news"?

    If Facebook Twitter, Reddit and other leftist dominated companies run all the communications mediums, how are those who disagree to compete in the arena of ideas?

    • by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @05:04PM (#53471953) Homepage

      If Facebook Twitter, Reddit and other leftist dominated companies run all the communications mediums, how are those who disagree to compete in the arena of ideas?

      There's not supposed to be competition in the arena of ideas, didn't you know that? It's supposed to be an infinite echo chamber where all the heads nod up and down at the same time in the same way and nobody ever says anything that challenges anyone's preconceived notions. Those that do must be exiled, ridiculed, and called racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, arachnophobic, hydrophobic, and anything else derogatory the echo chamber can come up with regardless of whether or not it actually applies. Such is the mentality of the left in political discourse.

      This is nothing new with the left. Go back to the origins with Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and so forth. Controlling thoughts and implementing groupthink has always been part and parcel of leftist ideology. It preys upon the typical desire to "fit in" and not be left out of a crowd. That's why every leftist government has always sought to ban certain types of speech -- either legally or extra-legally -- as part of its method for retaining power. The USSR did it to great effect for almost a century before it came crashing down. Today's "political correctness" is nothing more than the same ideology repackaged into something more aesthetically pleasing to the masses.

    • If Facebook Twitter, Reddit and other leftist dominated companies run all the communications mediums, how are those who disagree to compete in the arena of ideas?

      By creating new platforms. It's a good business opportunity. And it's already happening.

    • With the old literal public squares, who owned them?

      Is that better or worse than the privately-owned "public squares" we have now or not?

      (And do you expect such a publicly-owned internet square to have less of a left-leaning bias?)

  • Steve Huffman has a net worth of many millions at age 33, based on nothing more than a mediocre ability for web design (judging by Reddit). He certainly doesn't seem like he is ready for a CEO position. He should count his blessings, resign, and spend the rest of his life bird watching, picking up women, or whatever strikes his fancy.

  • You take all of the worst elements of the German Stasi and Orwell's Ministry of Truth and you expect to simply be forgiven after conducting a purge of the proles who forgot their place and blew the whistle on you? No. This is historical revisionism. It's totalitarian in nature and has no business in a free society. Congrats, tho, you've proven that there are still people in the world who think that Stalinism is a Good Idea that just needs some tweaking.
    • You take all of the worst elements of the German Stasi and Orwell's Ministry of Truth

      So the ceo of some free to use web forum editing posts is equivalent to torturing people? Wrote, this is a new level of hyperbole.

  • by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @05:30PM (#53472143) Journal
    Once censorship is allowed who really wants to stay on a managed site?
    Once topics people have put a lot of work into get banned, edited or removed?
    Other really good US sites offer freedom of speech, freedom after speech and the freedom to read a comment later.
    They trust their users, their users ideas, thoughts, words, comments and topics.
    If a site does not like or trust its users to comment maybe the site should just publish the news, topics it likes?
  • Reddit's management structure is toxic, heavy-handed, and one-sided. And I say this as a proud leftist.
    Authoritarianism is not exclusive to the right wing. Left wingers can be equally authoritarian.
    And a lot of the time, we forget this. We are so proud of our ideological purity that we squash those who disagree with us.
    And as a direct result, they rejected us in the elections. Because we stopped being liberals and started being the Fairness Police.
  • Huffman must go.

    If reddit users don't trust the community, there will be no community. Huffman did the unthinkable by covertly editing users posts; the only way reddit can recover users' trust is that Huffman must go.

    • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

      Huffman did the unthinkable by covertly editing users posts

      Wow, Reddit users think this is unthinkable, such sheeple.

  • It all must be Ellen Pao's fault. Somehow.
  • by samantha ( 68231 ) * on Monday December 12, 2016 @08:32PM (#53473191) Homepage

    Users will not trust Reddit headed by someone that edits their posts "because I can" for any reason whatsoever. This is more than a relatively innocent screwup. This is clear fraud and violation of the fundamental nature of Reddit. FIRE!

  • by KYPackrat ( 52094 ) on Monday December 12, 2016 @11:21PM (#53473925)

    A few months ago, our CEO lost badge access to our main data center. That was his pride and joy, and now he needs an escort in, because his job doesn't involve any requirement to work inside the room.

    If you are a content provider, you probably need one or two people who are capable of editing any post, so that you can fix problems. However, there is no way that the CEO should have that kind of power. The fact that the CEO can just randomly edit content anywhere on the site, without auditing or accountability means that there is a culture out of control.

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