Reddit CEO's Ask Me Anything session doesn't quite live up to its billing

Steve Huffman, the latest chief of the social news site, skirted a few issues Reddit fans and foes are keen to know more about.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
4 min read

Steve Huffman, Reddit's returning CEO, has said the site was never intended to be a "bastion of free speech." Reddit

Reddit may be best known for its Ask Me Anything forums, where celebrities allow themselves to be grilled by users on just about any topic. But that vaunted openness was missing Thursday, when the site's new chief executive sidestepped important questions about Reddit's operations during a nearly two-hour-long AMA session.

Reddit, which has operated as an anything-goes community forum for a decade, will no longer allow illegal activity, publish people's private information, write anything that incites violence, harassment, bullying and abuse or post anything sexually suggestive of minors.

"As Reddit has grown, we've seen additional examples of how unfettered free speech can make Reddit a less enjoyable place to visit, and can even cause people harm outside of Reddit," Steve Huffman, Reddit's co-founder who returned as CEO July 10, wrote Thursday during a company AMA that drew more than 18,000 posts.

Reddit seems to be at a crossroads. With nearly 164 million monthly visitors, the online message board has had trouble managing itself. It's become infamous for postings and forums that many find offensive, including ones that are misogynistic, homophobic or racist.

"We've spent the last few days here discussing and agree that an approach like this allows us as a company to repudiate content we don't want to associate with the business, but gives individuals freedom to consume it if they choose," he added. "This is what we will try, and if the hateful users continue to spill out into mainstream reddit, we will try more aggressive approaches."

While Huffman published an 840-word post elaborating on some of the changes at the start of his AMA, he ducked some key questions, including why three key female executives left the company within a two-week span.

Here are three questions Reddit watchers wished he had answered:

Q: Who really made the decision to fire Victoria Taylor, Reddit's well- respected director of talent who helped numerous volunteer moderators run "subreddits," the message boards that keep the site going?

Taylor was fired July 2, though Reddit didn't announce her ouster until after the community learned about it. Moderators responded by angrily shutting down dozens of subreddits, which affected the millions of passionate Reddit users known as Redditors. There was speculation that Pao, who had served as interim CEO since November, was behind Taylor's abrupt dismissal. That speculation prompted renewed interest in a Change.org petition calling for Pao's resignation. Many wondered if Taylor clashed with Reddit execs on the issue of balancing the community's best interests with the need to make the site more commercially viable.

Taylor said in a Reddit post last week that "if I know one thing about this community, it's you'll continue making your voices heard. And that's an inspiration."

Alexis Ohanian, who co-founded Reddit with Huffman in 2005 and returned last year as executive chairman, also intimated in a podcast after Pao's resignation that he was the one behind Taylor's dismissal.

Huffman made no mention of Taylor's ouster on Thursday, even though the question was asked.

Q: Ohanian has said that when he returned as executive chairman last year, he wanted to bring back Huffman as CEO. Was Ellen Pao named interim CEO in November because she was always meant to be Reddit's temporary chief?

Pao was named interim CEO after former CEO Yishan Wong resigned. At that time, Huffman was working on his travel startup Hipmunk, and it remains murky whether Reddit planned to bring Huffman back.

In the past eight months, Pao has introduced policies that have proved unpopular with some Redditors, including the site's first ever anti-harrassment policy and its closure in June of five subreddits that violated that policy. Three days after Pao's exit, Reddit chief engineer Bethanye Blount quit. She said Pao had been placed on a glass cliff, a term that refers to putting women in a crisis situation that's highly likely to result in failure.

The ultimate question here is whether Pao was the architect of Reddit's recent missteps or the scapegoat?

Q: When Reddit raised $50 million in funding last fall, then-CEO Wong proposed giving about 10 percent of that share to the Reddit community to recognize their vital contributions. Will you pay up?

That's yet to be known as the decade-old, privately held company is partially owned by Advance Publications, the parent company of Conde Nast, which publishes 22 magazines including GQ, Vanity Fair and Wired. Prominent funders include venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital, noted angel investors Ron Conway and Peter Thiel and entertainers Jared Leto and Snoop Dogg.