As you may have seen over the past week, Reddit—the “last page of the internet”—has not been having a good time, after the company’s CEO decided to oversee some changes that affected some very popular apps that people were using to access the site. That CEO, Steve Huffman, is now doing some prominent interviews in an attempt at damage control, and he is not doing well.
Faced with a website where many major subreddits—including most of the biggest video game ones, from r/ps5 to r/pcgaming—went dark for a few days (and in some cases have remained dark), and where many of the top posts on the site’s front page are still protest posts, you would think Huffman would approach these interviews with a humble, understanding tone, especially given the negative reaction to his first round of public comments.
Nope! On NBC he has instead taken the opportunity to attack the site’s moderators for organising the protest, likening them to “landed gentry”, essentially blaming them for the site-wide uproar like a conman/politician would label someone an “elite”, and saying because of this the protests aren’t “actually representative of their communities”:
If you’re a politician or a business owner, you are accountable to your constituents. So a politician needs to be elected, and a business owner can be fired by its shareholders.
And I think on Reddit, the analogy is closer to the landed gentry: The people who get their first get to stay there and pass it down to their descendants, and that is not democratic.
Meanwhile, over on The Verge, Huffman is saying with an entirely straight face that not only was Reddit “never designed to support third-party apps” (maybe not initially, but they’ve been around and using the API for over a decade), but that he had no idea “the extent that they were profiting off of our API”.
Being a CEO, Huffman might have a different idea of what the word means, but those apps were not “profiting”. The payment options in place, for many of them voluntary, were sustaining development of applications that only existed because for a very long time Reddit didn’t even have an app, and then when it got one it sucked.
In defence of all this, Huffman can point to an official FAQ Reddit posted to their company blog yesterday, which exists solely to point out the number of subreddits that reopened after the pledged two-day blackout (and accidentally acknowledging that a full 20% of their top communities are remaining dark indefinitely in protest!), and to commit this sentence to public record:
Reddit needs to be a self-sustaining business and to do that, we can no longer subsidize commercial entities that require large-scale data use from our API.
Buddy. Reddit has existed for almost two decades as a weird, sometimes awful, sometimes tolerable collection of human communities. It has even recently become a lot of people’s only way of searching for useful content on the internet. For most of that time the site had no interest in messing with this stuff. So why all the fuss now over profit margins?
The damage control isn’t for us. It’s for potential investors. Reddit’s management are trying to take the site public and make some money, and like this Variety story sums up, they have been having some serious problems doing that. So the next time you see Reddit or Huffman go to the media with attempts to dismiss sitewide protests involving millions of disgruntled users, and pledge to die on the smallest hill just so they can shave a few bucks off the books and appear more profitable—in this case by directing more users to the official app, which serves ads—remember what their motivations really are.