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Reddit: Russian propaganda spread on our site before 2016 election

The site removed hundreds of suspect accounts and found that thousands of redditors unwittingly spread links from just one source of propaganda.

Reddit's "Snoo" logo, a smiling alien with one antenna and circular features, in front of a red background.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman acknowledged Monday that accounts suspected to be Russian in origin spread misinformation on the popular news-sharing and discussion site.

Reddit

As more information has come to light on Russia's alleged campaign to spread disinformation during the 2016 election in the US, we've learned more about how Russia-backed trolls used the most popular websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in their operations. 

But what about Reddit, the fourth most popular site in the US?

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman acknowledged Monday that the company has removed hundreds of accounts it suspects are of Russian origin or that linked directly to known sources of propaganda.

"We have found and removed a few hundred accounts, and of course, every account we find expands our search a little more," Huffman wrote in a post on Reddit

The findings come in response to media reports that Reddit was a source of misinformation during the campaign season and election, won by Donald Trump. In December, researchers led by Rishab Nithyanand of think tank Data & Society released findings that pointed to a coordinated campaign to spread misinformation targeted at conservative forums on Reddit

Huffman added that "the vast majority" of these accounts had already been banned in 2015 and 2016 as the site moved to increase enforcement of its terms of use. He also said that Reddit found no ads linked to Russian accounts because ads on the site are all reviewed by humans and Reddit's ad policies "prohibit content that depicts intolerant or overly contentious political or cultural views."

The question of whether regular Reddit users unknowingly shared content that originally came from Russian trolls is harder to answer, Huffman said. Thousands of redditors shared links from @TEN_GOP, a Twitter handle posing as an official account of the Tennessee GOP, he said, and most of those redditors appeared to be Americans "unwittingly promoting Russian propaganda."

Huffman didn't indicate what, if anything, Reddit planned to do to prevent that sort of thing going forward.

"I wish there was a solution as simple as banning all propaganda, but it's not that easy. Between truth and fiction are a thousand shades of grey," Huffman said. "It's up to all of us -- Redditors, citizens, journalists -- to work through these issues."

Huffman added that he hoped revelations of widespread efforts to spread misinformation would prompt Americans to "hold ourselves to higher standards of discourse, and fight back against propaganda, whether foreign or not."

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