Alexis Ohanian frees up his place on Reddit’s board for a black candidate

8 Jun 2020190 Views

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Alexis Ohanian has resigned from Reddit’s board, urging the company to replace him with a black candidate.

On Friday (5 June), Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian announced that he is resigning from the company’s board of directors. In a tweet, Ohanian urged the company to replace him with a black candidate.

The announcement came as protests against racism and inequality continue in the US and further afield. “I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now,” Ohanian wrote in his message. “To everyone fighting to fix our broken nation: do not stop.”

Last week, a number of popular Reddit communities joined in the protests virtually by banning new posts or going private to take a stand against the platform’s hate speech policies. In the same week, former Reddit CEO Ellen K Pao claimed that the company “nurtures and monetises white supremacy and hate”.

Ohanian steps down

In a series of tweets, Ohanian said that it’s “long overdue to do the right thing”, adding that he wants to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks, ‘What did you do?’

“I have resigned as a member of the Reddit board,” he wrote. “I have urged them to fill my seat with a black candidate and I will use future gains on my Reddit stock to serve the black community, chiefly to curb racial hate.”

Ohanian said that he is pledging $1m to Colin Kaepernick’s youth campaign, Know Your Rights Camp.

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Ohanian stepped away from his daily duties at Reddit in 2018 to spend more time at Initialized Capital, an early-stage venture fund he co-founded, but retained his seat on the Reddit board. In recent years, Ohanian has spoken out about issues such as paid family leave, citing his experience as a father after he had a child with wife Serena Williams in 2017.

Reddit’s response

Following Ohanian’s announcement on Twitter, current Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said that he would honour the request to replace Ohanian with a black board member.

In a lengthy Reddit post, Huffman said that the company has “work to do” with its current content policy, which “does not explicitly take a stance on hate or racism”.

“We will update our content policy to include a vision for Reddit and its communities to aspire to, a statement on hate, the context for the rules, and a principle that Reddit isn’t to be used as a weapon,” he wrote.

Huffman, who co-founded the business with Ohanian in 2005, acknowledged that some communities on Reddit have had particular problems with hate and racism.

He cited a subreddit where users shared support for Donald Trump, entitled r/The_Donald. Huffman said that this particular subreddit “relished in exploiting and detracting from the best of Reddit”.

“The majority of our top communities have a rule banning hate and racism, which makes us proud and is evidence why a community-led approach is the only way to scale moderation online,” Huffman said.

“That said, this is not a rule communities should have to write for themselves and we need to rebalance the burden of enforcement. I also accept responsibility for this. Despite making significant progress over the years, we have to turn a mirror on ourselves and be willing to do the hard work of making sure we are living up to our values in our product and policies.”

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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