Reddit co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman is under fire after admitting that he personally edited comments users posted about him.
Huffman, whose username is u/spez, apologized Thursday in the Donald Trump fan subreddit r/the_donald for editing comments that were critical of him. Huffman said that, in an unspecified number of user comments, he replaced references to “u/spez” with the usernames of moderators for r/the_donald.
“Pizzagate” refers to a debunked conspiracy theory claiming, among other things, that Hillary Clinton ran a child-trafficking ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizza place. (The pizza place is real; the rest of the story is fabricated.) Reddit shut down r/pizzagate, a forum devoted to discussing the conspiracy, earlier this week. Some users took to r/the_donald to express their displeasure with the decision and, by extension, with Huffman.
The CEO’s confession means that when some users made disparaging comments about him using his username, he replaced his username with one belonging to a moderator for the group. For example, an archived version of the site shows that a comment saying “FUCK /u/spez” was changed to “FUCK /u/Trumpshaker.”
According to Huffman’s post, the change only lasted for an hour and all changes have since been corrected.
Unsurprisingly, many Reddit users were not happy to learn that the company’s CEO was personally editing their content. Some called it unethical and said that it could put the integrity of any content posted to Reddit into question.
Legal site Associate’s Mind speculated that Huffman’s actions could create serious repercussions in terms of how Reddit is treated under the law. Potentially, the site argued, Huffman opened Reddit to liability by transforming the site from an intermediary that hosts third-party comments to a site whose owners exercise editorial control over those comments. The author used the example of a college billboard where students can post whatever they want as an analogy:
Think of it like a billboard at a local college. The college puts a billboard up for students to make community announcements. The college never uses it. Then Adam writes something defamatory and false about Betsy. Betsy is upset and sues Adam and the college. A court would allow the lawsuit to proceed against Adam, but not the college because they just provided the platform and had nothing to do with the comments.
But the college would be liable if college staff erased Adam’s comments and changed them to something else. If Adam was originally saying something mild about Betsy, and instead a college staffer changed it to something defamatory, that’s not on Adam, it’s on the college.
Reddit did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post.