Reddit has named Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel to its board of directors. In addition to running the well-known accelerator, Seibel also co-founded the live streaming company Justin.tv before it transformed into Twitch. Justin.tv was an early recipient of Y Combinator seed money through the accelerator’s startup fund, as was Reddit. (Seibel also co-founded Socialcam and sold it to Autodesk in 2012.)
Seibel is replacing co-founder and board member Alexis Ohanian, who stepped down from the company’s board of directors last week and asked to be replaced by a black candidate. Seibel was Y Combinator’s first black partner prior to becoming CEO, and he has supported a number of initiatives to increase diversity in the tech industry, including BlackTech4BlackLives and Black Tech Weekend.
“I want to thank Steve, Alexis, and the entire Reddit board for this opportunity. I’ve known Steve and Alexis since 2007 and have been a Reddit user ever since,” Seibel said in a statement. “Over this period of time I’ve watched Reddit become part of the core fabric of the internet and I’m excited to help provide advice and guidance as Reddit continues to grow and tackle the challenges of bringing community and belonging to a broader audience.”
Ohanian resigned from Reddit, where he was a board member but not involved in day-to-day operations, amid a broader conversation about the platform’s stance on racism and hate speech and ways to advance diversity and combat racial injustice in the tech industry. The conversation began following Reddit CEO Steve Huffman’s post addressing the killing of George Floyd and the ongoing protests against police brutality and racism, in which the chief executive said the Reddit community does “not tolerate hate, racism, and violence.”
The note sparked criticism from former CEO Ellen Pao, who characterized Huffman’s words as hypocritical. “So much of what is happening now lies at your feet,” Pao said of Huffman’s failure to ban hate speech and moderate or remove its more toxic communities. “You don’t get to say BLM when reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long.”
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 reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long https://t.co/VN5XCiYp5g
— Ellen K. Pao (@ekp) June 2, 2020
Numerous subreddits went dark earlier in the week to honor Floyd and to further protest Reddit’s handling of racism. Many moderators of prominent subreddits echoed Pao’s comments and called out Huffman for failing to take action against hateful communities like the pro-Trump subreddit r/The_Donald and others. “Reddit has harbored racists as policy for years,” read a note posted by the moderators of r/NFL. (For a deeper look at Reddit’s controversial history of volunteer-based moderation, read the dedicated column about it in The Verge’s Interface here.)
Ohanian didn’t comment on his co-founder’s tenure upon departing from the board. But he did say that leaving the board “is long overdue to do the right thing.” He went on to say he would use his future gains on Reddit stock “to serve the black community, chiefly to curb racial hate,” and that he was donating $1 million to former NFL player and activist Colin Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights Camp education organization.
I’ve resigned as a member of the reddit board, I have urged them to fill my seat with a black candidate, + I will use future gains on my Reddit stock to serve the black community, chiefly to curb racial hate, and I’m starting with a pledge of $1M to @kaepernick7’s @yourrightscamp
— Alexis Ohanian Sr. (@alexisohanian) June 5, 2020
Huffman acknowledged the criticism late last week in a separate note announcing Ohanian’s decision to step down. “Earlier this week, I wrote an email to our company addressing this crisis and a few ways Reddit will respond. When we shared it, many of the responses said something like, ‘How can a company that has faced racism from users on its own platform over the years credibly take such a position?’ Huffman said. “These questions, which I know are coming from a place of real pain and which I take to heart, are really a statement: There is an unacceptable gap between our beliefs as people and a company, and what you see in our content policy.”
Huffman said at the time that in addition to honoring Ohanian’s wishes to be replaced by a black candidate, the company would also update its content policy to “include a vision for Reddit and its communities to aspire to, a statement on hate, the context for the rules, and a principle that Reddit isn’t to be used as a weapon.” Reddit plans to do so in the coming months after gathering moderator feedback.