Serena Williams’ husband Alexis Ohanian — the co-founder of Reddit — resigned from Reddit’s board of directors today. He announced the move in a tweet, urging the company to hire a black candidate in his stead and promising his future gains on Reddit stock to serve the black community.
The move comes just two days after a number of popular subreddits went private or, in some cases, banned new posts to protest the company’s hate speech policies. Some moderators of some of the site’s largest communities specifically called out Ohanian’s co-founder, current CEO Steve Huffman, for failing to take action against racism and some of the site’s most virulent communities like r/The_Donald, its pro-Trump subreddit.
Reddit is a global forum, and one of the earliest mass gathering places online that popularized and prioritized the idea of unrestricted free speech. Its stance has changed more recently.
Over the last couple years, Reddit has started to proactively ban the kinds of communities it would have tolerated before Donald Trump’s election as president, like the QAnon subreddit or the alt-right r/MillionDollarExtreme. But it hasn’t been perfect. Just this week, former CEO Ellen Pao — who resigned after users revolted over changes to the site during her tenure — took Reddit to task over its historical tolerance of racism and white supremacist thought.
Ohanian’s desire to do some good with his power and position is admirable, but it doesn’t erase the harm Reddit has done because of its commitment to speech above all else.
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman wrote in a post Friday that the company would honor Ohanian’s request to replace him with a black candidate. “We’re working with mods to change our content policy to explicitly address hate,” Huffman added. “I want to take responsibility for the history of our policies over the years that got us here, and we still have work to do.”
UPDATED June 5th 3:28PM ET: Added comment from Reddit CEO