Reddit CEO rejects call for a crackdown on coronavirus misinformation

"Dissent is a part of Reddit," says Steve Huffman.

Reddit app is seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration (Dado Ruvic / reuters)

Reddit is pushing back against calls for the company to do a better job of moderating disinformation. In a thread titled Debate, dissent and protest on Reddit, CEO Steve Huffman said the company would continue to point users to authoritative information from the CDC when dealing with misinformation related to COVID-19. What it won’t do is ban communities that “challenge the consensus views on the pandemic.”

“Dissent is a part of Reddit and the foundation of democracy. Reddit is a place for open and authentic discussion and debate,” Huffman said in a thread that is locked, preventing Reddit users from replying to him directly. “This includes conversations that question or disagree with popular consensus. This includes conversations that criticize those that disagree with the majority opinion. This includes protests that criticize or object to our decisions on which communities to ban from the platform.”

Huffman’s statement doesn’t reference a specific community or incident, but as Vice points out, what likely prompted him to say anything at all was a thread from r/vaxxhappened, a subreddit where people share memes about anti-vaxxers. “We call upon Reddit to take action against the rampant Coronavirus misinformation on their website,” says the title of the post, which accuses Reddit of doing "nothing of substance" to tackle the problem of misinformation on the platform. As of the writing of this article, it has nearly 170,000 upvotes, with various other communities crossposting the thread to their subreddits.

“We could have been better off months ago, but disinformation and lies have been allowed to spread readily through inaction and malice, and have dragged this on at the cost of lives,” the post says. “There can be no room for leniency when people are dying as a result of misinformation on this platform. Reddit as a global platform needs to take responsibility here.”

While Reddit often isn’t mentioned in the same breath as Facebook and Twitter, the platform is a source of misinformation. You can visit various communities on the website that consistently share COVID-19 conspiracy theories. The only roadblock preventing access is a landing page that warns you you’re about to enter a subreddit that has been “quarantined” by the company for sharing misinformation.