Social Media

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman: I screwed up and I want Reddit to trust me again

Eric Johnson
Steve Huffman, co-founder and chief executive officer of Reddit Inc., speaks during a Bloomberg Technology television interview in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The most anxious day of Reddit CEO Steve Huffman's life was showing up to work on the Monday after Thanksgiving this year. The week before, he had thrown the company into a minor political crisis.

After weeks being antagonized by the users of Reddit communities like /r/The_Donald and /r/pizzagate, Huffman had covertly edited messages posted by other users that were critical of him, to instead be critical of those communities' leaders. On the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Huffman said he conceived this as a prank, "in the spirit of fun."

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"I figured, I'm just going to mess with these bullies, and I actually have the capability of messing with them, so I'll do so," Huffman said. "I wanted to do something. I didn't do the right thing, but that was my mentality."

Huffman says the aftermath of this "prank," users questioning whether their posts had ever been edited without their consent in the past, was "devastating," and that he knows it will take time to rebuild trust within the community. At an all-hands staff meeting on that anxious Monday, he apologized directly to Reddit's staff and said he wanted them all to be proud to work there.

However, Huffman also said that Reddit is continuing to debate how to address what he sees as a "toxic minority" within groups like Trump supporters without removing the group as a whole.

"The irony is, they're on my platform. I've defended their right to be on our platform many times," he said. "I don't want to take your voice away. I just want you to stop being a_______s."

"I think you're seeing this play out in the country," Huffman added. "A toxic minority of people who are trying to re-normalize bigotry and bad behavior are undermining this message that 50 percent of country feels disenfranchised, is left out. Separating those two is not easy."

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By Eric Johnson, Re/

CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.