Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian has taken to his blog to call out "fellow geeks" — from tech industry employees to Reddit denizens — for the crude responses, death threats, and DDOS attacks that occurred after Adria Richards tweeted a picture of several men who made childish, sexual jokes behind her while at a programming convention. "It could have been an opportunity for a lot of important progress," Ohanian told The Verge. "I was so upset by the discourse."
Ohanian evangelizes the value of free speech on the internet, but notes that it's something that must be used responsibly. “All technology comes down to how we use it," the Reddit co-founder said. He felt that the Richards situation was poorly handled by those involved, but that an opportunity for "a really frank, candid discussion" may have been squandered by the foul remarks and self-righteousness that followed. The open nature of the internet allowed those contrary voices to stand out, but "I don’t believe it represents the majority of us," Ohanian said.
"It could have been an opportunity for a lot of important progress."
As Reddit's co-founder, Ohanian occupies an influential position for members of the popular social news site, a diverse group that often carries extreme responses from perpetuating stereotypes to rallying behind charity. Because Reddit is composed of thousands of sub-communities, it's easy for the loud, negative ones to receive more attention. Ohanian argued that on Reddit, and across the internet, the most effective response to detestable behavior is to speak back against it. "The best way to combat a neo-Nazi account or the Westboro Baptist Church […] is to challenge it, to have people say ‘this is not OK.'"
In his post, Ohanian also discussed the responsibility of those in the tech industry to accept diverse viewpoints. He posed that "geeks" are no longer part of an ignored subculture but are now the successful establishment, and should reflect on that past to create an empathetic and welcoming environment. Speaking to the crude response that he's seen, he simply wrote, "stop."
“There’s always going to be someone mashing at the keyboard," Ohanian told The Verge. "But I think [a civil internet] is absolutely always worth driving for."