What could Mark Zuckerberg learn from Reddit CEO

Steve Huffman had to change in order for Reddit to change. Facebook will never transform unless Zuckerberg's thinking shifts.

📸 by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

What a week it’s been. After saying this is not a good idea, Facebook will start labeling problematic posts. Despite that, the boycott continues with more and more big brands joining in. Reddit finally banned The_Donald and other 200 hundred subreddits after policy changes. Twitch temporarily banned President Trump’s account for hate speech. And YouTube removed a number of high-profile white supremacist channels, including those belonging to David Duke and Richard Spencer.

Meanwhile, a lot of people online and in the media were discussing possible solutions to this mess:

ℹ️ This piece was originally written for FWIW by David Tvrdon, a newsletter about tech, media & audio. Here is the full version together with a news digest.

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How did Reddit change

I keep coming back to the Reddit Transparency report from earlier this year. Especially this part:

The way Reddit handles content moderation today is unique in the industry. We use a governance model akin to a democracy — where everyone has the ability to vote and self-organize, follow a set of rules, and ultimately shares some responsibility for how the platform works.

First, we have rules for what’s allowed in each community (known as a “subreddit”). These Community Rules are written and enforced not by Reddit employees, but by the community’s own volunteer moderators (known as “Mods”). These rules are tailored to the unique needs of each individual community, and are often highly specific. Volunteer community moderators are empowered to remove any post that does not follow their community’s rules, without any involvement or direction from Reddit, Inc. The self-moderation our users do every day at this community level is the most scalable solution we’ve seen to the challenges of moderating content online.

Reddit’s approach to content moderation is primarily community-led. Each community on Reddit is required to have at least one volunteer Moderator. These individuals are either assigned by default when they create the subreddit, or appointed by other moderators. Admins are Reddit employees who remove content based on violations of Reddit’s Content Policy.

Key statement: The self-moderation our users do every day at this community level is the most scalable solution we’ve seen to the challenges of moderating content online.

Back to Facebook. This method (mentioned above) is pretty unique to Reddit content structure. Facebook is different and much more structured around the idea of any post going viral. You can have a fake account with five friends posting some nonsense about chemtrails, and it could have thousands of shares.

On one hand, you have Mark Zuckerberg boasting about the power of democratization by social media and giving voice to everyone.

On the other hand, as it was mentioned so many times before, free speech is one thing, free reach is another.

And once you are responsible for the reach, you should be responsible for the actual content your algorithm is helping to spread.

It took Reddit many years to become a platform I can reference today (we all still remember back to 2013 when Reddit’s users falsely accused someone being a terrorist + back in 2015 it was home to “the most violently racist” content on the internet).

Reddit’s CEO gave an interview recently, which is highly quotable and earnest. This is an important statement:

When we started Reddit 15 years ago, we didn’t ban things. And it was easy, as it is for many young people, to make statements like that because, one, I had more rigid political beliefs and, two, I lacked perspective and real-world experience.

Over the years, we’ve been increasingly confronted with difficult decisions, and we have to weigh these trade-offs. And so here we are, believing that free speech and free expression are really important, and that’s one of the things that makes Reddit special, but at the same time, seeing that allowing everything is working against our mission.

When it comes to Facebook's reckoning, expect a neverending story

Now, if you think about Zuckerberg, who alone is deciding the rules on Facebook at the end of the day, there is some hope he will likewise change his beliefs one day. I don’t think that day is anywhere near, but hey, I can dream.

Meanwhile, we are left with the boycott which will get back to normal in one month or so, because even big ad spenders cannot stay away from social media advertising for long.

Yes, I may seem skeptical but if you think about it, Facebook’s biggest incentive is to keep shareholders happy. And because I don’t see a Reddit-style self-moderation solution here, AI is far from a great content moderator, the only real option left is human moderators, lots of them, and that’s not going to be cheap.

[UPDATE — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees he was reluctant to bow to the threats of a growing ad boycott, saying in private remarks that “my guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.” Well, hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. 😢]

ℹ️ This piece was originally written for FWIW by David Tvrdon, a newsletter about tech, media & audio. Here is the full version together with a news digest.

📩 Subcribe and get the next edition for free to your inbox >>

Journalist / newsletter writer / podcast producer • 📩 weekly tech & media newsletter: https://fwiw.substack.com/welcome • 🌐 info: https://davidtvrdon.com

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