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Longtime Reddit general manager Erik Martin steps down

Longtime Reddit general manager Erik Martin steps down

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Reddit general manager Erik Martin has announced his departure. Martin, who joined the site as a community manager in 2008, has helped shepherd it from a relatively modest link-sharing site to one of the internet's central destinations. Today, that's coming to an end, though Martin seems to be leaving on good terms.

Reddit was launched in 2005, and Martin was brought on around the beginning of the site's rapid growth: Reddit Metrics estimates there were 7,800 individual subreddits when he was hired, compared to over 500,000 today. As general manager, he became a spokesman not only for Reddit as a forum, but for Reddit as a freewheeling intentional community. In mid-2011, he was quoted on CNN talking about "Random Acts of Pizza," a subreddit where users could send free pizza to strangers. That same year, Martin spoke out against the Stop Online Piracy Act, an unpopular intellectual property protection bill with a threateningly broad scope. Alongside Wikipedia and other sites, Reddit went dark in protest on January 18th of 2012, and the bill was tabled just days later. Today, the SOPA protest is considered one of internet activism's greatest victories, and Reddit is remembered as one of the most important contributors to it.

At the same time, though, Martin and Reddit were figuring out how to deal with distasteful (but not necessarily illegal) subreddits without compromising either their commitment to light moderation or their overall respectability. One of the most prominent cases was r/jailbait, a subreddit devoted to sexualized images of teenagers. "We're a free speech site with very few exceptions," said Martin, "and having to stomach occasional troll reddit like picsofdeadkids or morally quesitonable reddits like jailbait are part of the price of free speech on a site like this." But he also tangled with the group's moderator Violentacrez, who would go on to become one of Reddit's most infamous users — he had created or moderated not only r/jailbait but a number of Reddit's other intentionally offensive fora.

Martin apologized for a 'witch hunt' in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing

These edge cases have caused much agonized debate over where Reddit should draw the line between free speech and active harm or harassment, an issue Martin has been in the middle of. CNN's Anderson Cooper went after r/jailbait, and the site eventually banned "suggestive" content involving minors. Then, in 2012, Gawker journalist Adrian Chen learned the identity of Violentacrez, prompting a flurry of moderator activity and an attempt to blacklist Chen and Gawker Media. Martin and others from Reddit maintained that offensive subreddits were a necessary evil in order to maintain the integrity of a site that also hosted question-and-answer sessions with US President Barack Obama and a record-breaking Secret Santa drive.

Questions about Reddit's culture have never really gone away. The site has created a large platform that can be used for good or ill by its users. After the Boston Marathon was bombed in 2013, what started as amateur investigative journalism turned into, as Martin would later put it, a "witch hunt" that led Redditors to wrongly accuse, among others, a missing student who would later turn up dead. "After this week, which showed the best and worst of Reddit's potential, we hope that Boston will also be where Reddit learns to be sensitive of its own power," he wrote in a blog post.

Martin has, overall, remained optimistic about Reddit's potential. The site recently launched an app for reading its AMA (Ask Me Anything) threads, acknowledging their phenomenal popularity. On a darker note, it was one of the central hubs for promoting and distributing nude celebrity photographs, which were stolen from iCloud and other sources by unknown parties and later curated on subreddit r/TheFappening, which drove huge amounts of traffic to the site. The subreddit was banned after protest, but CEO Yishan Wong insisted that Reddit would not change its overall policies, because "we consider ourselves not just a company running a website where one can post links and discuss them, but the government of a new type of community."

While Reddit introduced several new hires at the beginning of October, a replacement general manager has not been announced, and Martin hasn't said where he'll be going after leaving the site.