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Reddit co-founder resigns, urges black board replacement

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 6/5/2020 Eric Newcomer and Nic Querolo

Video by CNN Money

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of the link-sharing site Reddit Inc., announced his resignation from the company’s board of directors Friday and called on the company to replace him with a black candidate.

Reddit, one of the most popular websites in the world, has long been a source of controversy. Ohanian has an on-again, off-again relationship with the company. He stepped down from day-to-day work with Reddit in 2018 but had remained on its board.

“I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now,” he wrote on Twitter. “To everyone fighting to fix our broken nation: do not stop.”

In response to Ohanian, Reddit co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Steve Huffman wrote in a post that Reddit would honor Ohanian’s request to replace him with a black director. Huffman also wrote that the company would take a stronger stance against racism, though he said that Reddit is still working out the specifics of its new policy.

In a video, Ohanian said, “I’m saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks what did you do. So, I have resigned as a member of the Reddit board. I have urged them to fill my seat with a black candidate and I will use future gains on my Reddit stock to serve the black community, chiefly to curb racial hate.” He has a 2-year-old daughter with his wife, tennis star Serena Williams.

A pro-Trump message board on Reddit called The_Donald has been a continued source of tension. Reddit’s former interim Chief Executive Officer Ellen Pao publicly criticized the company this week. In response to a post from the company about the Black Lives Matter movement, Pao wrote on Twitter, “I am obligated to call you out: You should have shut down the_donald instead of amplifying it and its hate, racism, and violence. So much of what is happening now lies at your feet. You don’t get to say BLM when reedit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long.”

In a post to Reddit on Friday afternoon, Huffman said the site will change how it deals with racist comments. “In 2018, I confusingly said racism is not against the rules, but also isn’t welcome on Reddit. This gap between our content policy and our values has eroded our effectiveness in combating hate and racism on Reddit; I accept full responsibility for this,” Huffman wrote.

Huffman said that the company would take stronger action against racism, but provided few details, writing, “We have a choice: return to the status quo or use this opportunity for change. We at Reddit are opting for the latter, and we will do our very best to be a part of the progress.”

a man wearing a costume: Alexis Ohanian with wife Serena Williams and daughter on Jan. 12. © Photographer: Hannah Peters/Getty Images Alexis Ohanian with wife Serena Williams and daughter on Jan. 12.

Huffman didn’t say explicitly whether the company would officially ban The_Donald forum, which he described as being in a “near-dead state.” Reddit has had a policy of quarantining the group, partitioning it off from its front page and warning users before they visited it. But banning the so-called subreddit outright could raise hackles among conservatives who have long accused Bay Area social media companies of political bias. In his post, Huffman described the subreddit as “a community that relished in exploiting and detracting from the best of Reddit.”

A spokeswoman for Ohanian’s venture capital firm Initialized Capital declined to make him available for comment.

Ohanian also said he would pledge $1 million to Know Your Rights Camp, a nonprofit founded by Colin Kaepernick, the NFL star who has been shunned by the league for peacefully protesting for black rights.

“It is long overdue to do the right thing. I’m doing this for me, for my family, and for my country.” Ohanian said in the video that was included in his Twitter thread on Friday.

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