Saturday, April 7, 2018

Reddit: CEO Steve Huffman Editing and Removing Posts From a Pro-Trump Forum (2016)

Controversy,  also know as "The front page of the internet", is an online forum website.  There are hundreds of thousands of different topics that include things like pets, video games, politics, memes, sports, and many many more.  The site hosts millions of users everyday, some of which may be looking for answers to questions, and others who may just be looking to get in on a conversation.  It is also used as a news source for many people.  Reddit makes money from advertisements which they pay for with money made from their reddit gold users, who pay $3.99 a month or $29.99 for the year. The gold features allow users to filter what comments they want to see on subreddits, manage their own comments, edit their avatars, and it removes ads from the site.  Many of Reddit's loyal users buy this feature because they love the way Reddit allows them to exercise their First Amendment rights.  Reddit if funded by these gold users and without them Reddit would have no way of making money.  Reddit gold and premium users would certainly be upset if their rights were infringed upon and there would be an uproar in the community.

Reddit has had a rough couple of years recently.  After the founder and former CEO of the site Steve Huffman stepped down from his position as CEO, Ellen Pao came in to serve as interim CEO.  Pao only made it eight months in the CEO position before resigning.  Her resignation came after she mismanaged the company and demonstrated poor communication between the company and the site or subreddit monitors, who are unpaid volunteers.  The breaking point for Pao however, came after she abruptly fired an employee, Victoria Taylor, who was a very popular employee within the Reddit community.  This caused an uproar from the community.  Shorty after this Pao resigned.
Reddit CEO: Steve Huffman 

After Pao's resignation Huffman stepped back into his role of CEO.  This is when the trouble started. A subreddit called, "r/The_Donald", was started shortly after Donald Trump announced that he would be running for president of the United States in 2016.  The subreddit was a page where Trump supporters could connect with each other, share and debate political views, and rally for a presidential candidate.  When Huffman announced that Reddit would be cracking down on controversial subreddits that contained offensive content, r/The_Donald was included as one of  these "Offensive subreddits".  This is odd because reddit clearly states on their frequently asked questions page that "reddit does not discriminate among candidates or differing political viewpoints in any way".  When the crackdown was announced many users across all of the subreddits, and r/The_Donald specifically, began to post comments criticizing Huffman.  To make things worse many users began to notice that their comments were either missing or edited.  This is a huge issue because reddit also clearly states that they support free speech.  They also clearly state in their frequently asked questions section that "reddit does not remove posts for containing insults or negative commentary, but leaves such decisions to the moderators of particular communities".  Huffman later admitted to using his administrative powers and his person account in order to edit and delete comments that were critical of him and some comments that were pro-Trump.  Huffman would take comments that mentioned him and replace his name with names of the leaders within the subreddit.  This made it look like the insults were aimed at these leaders instead of him.  This goes against his own rules stated in the frequently asked questions section of the site.  It also goes against the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees the freedoms of religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition.  This upset loyal reddit users no matter what political party they supported.  There are petitions all over the web with thousands of signatures  calling for Huffman to resign.  There are also countless articles explaining why Huffman should resign and is no longer fit to lead reddit.  Huffman's childish actions put not only him, but his entire company in a bad spot.  With this one action he lost the support and trust of a large majority of the community that once rallied around him.
Rules from reddit's frequently asked questions section


There are many stakeholders in this case.  These stakeholders include, Steve Huffman, the company reddit as a whole, reddit users, paid reddit gold users, and the moderators of specific subreddits.  Huffman is a stakeholder because he is the CEO of the company and he was the one being called out in these subreddits.  He handled the situation the wrong way and put not only himself, but the company, who is another stakeholder, in a bad position.  The reddit users used reddit as a place where they can converse with people and share ideas and opinions.  Many people lost trust in the company and stopped using the website.  The next stakeholder is a big one.  These are the paid gold subscribers.  They are investing their own hard earned money into the company.  These people want to see the money put to use in the right way and want to get a bang for their buck.  When they see the leader doing the things that he did it makes it seem like they are losing on their investment.  Finally the last stakeholders are the moderators.  People are looking at them negatively because they may have thought that the moderators were editing or deleting their posts when really it was the CEO of the company.  They faced unneeded and wrongly directed criticism for something that wasn't even their doing. 

In all cases of ethical theory, which are Individualism, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, and Virtue Theory, this case of reddit CEO Steve Huffman removing and editing post to troll people who criticize him would be seen as completely unethical.  


Under individualist theory, a business is doing the right thing as long as they are profiting and staying within the restraints of the law and they are respecting peoples basic human rights.  Prior to the comment editing controversy, everything was going great at reddit.  Their users were generally happy and they had tons of reddit gold subscribers. Huffman made a selfish and childish decision that did not respect his users basic human rights of freedom of speech.  Huffman also violated his own employee policy, which didn't allow its employees to use their administrative powers to carry out actions such as Huffman's.  Therefore, Huffman did not even stay within his own company law.  It came back to bite him and his company.  The company lost money because of a major decrease in gold subscribers.  Employees could be editing posts on any subreddit that just may not have been noticed before, and can continue to do so in the future.  This is why many users lost trust in the website they used to love.  


Under utilitarianism an action is seen as ethical if everyone involved in the action is happy.  As long as the particular action is maximizing happiness for everyone then the action is ethical.  In this case, this action would definitely be seen as unethical.  At the time of the original editing of posts, all stakeholders were unhappy besides one, Huffman.  Huffman was later apologetic for his actions which came to a unanimous unhappy for all stakeholders involved in the case.  


Kantianism says that an action is only ethical if the person or group carrying out the action is conducting themselves rationally according to society.  A person, group, or business should never consider themselves above the law as if they are exempt from following them.  People's individual needs and interests must also be taken into account and respected in order for an action to be carried out.  This case would be considered unethical for many reasons.  Huffman considered himself above his own company laws.  He broke his company policy when he decided to edit and delete posts off the r/The_Donald subreddit.  He also didn't take into account the users on the subreddit's interests and decided to go against against them.

Virtue Theory

In order to be acting ethically under the virtue theory, a person, group, or business needs to be acting in a way that satisfies the four virtue characteristics.  The characteristics are honesty, courage, temperance, and justice.  In this case the first characteristic, honesty, was not exercised.  Huffman was not honest in editing the posts because he did it anonymously and secretively.  After the fact he owned up to it and was honest about what he did.  The second characteristic, courage, was also not exercised.  Huffman did this anonymously and secretively hoping that people would notice but not know who did it.  He was not courageous in these actions.  The third characteristic, temperance, which Huffman did not have.  His expectation was that he would not be criticized in his position of CEO.  This is not a reasonable expectation for him to have since he is in a public position with a lot of power.  He is certainly going to receive some criticism.  The final characteristic, justice, was done in Huffman's case.  He felt that editing peoples comments were doing justice to them for criticizing them.  Under the virtue theory Huffman acted unethical because he did not satisfy all four virtues.  


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