Reddit Co-Founder Defends Site and Internet Freedom of Speech

Nov 1, 2012 10:06am
abc alexis ohanian reddit ll 121031 wblog Reddit Co Founder Defends Site and Internet Freedom of Speech

Image credit: ABC News

Reddit has had quite a few months of attention-grabbing news – both positive and negative.

On the positive side, the social network, which is built around forum threads, was used by President Obama to connect with voters in one of the site’s “Ask Me Anythings,” or AMAs. It also deployed an “Internet 2012″ bus through Middle America during the presidential debates to share stories about people across the nation who are using the Internet to build businesses.

“We wanted to break this false narrative of innovation only coming from Silicon Valley. We certainly feel that way here in New York. We’ve got a great, booming tech sector,” Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian told ABC News’ Paula Faris in an ABC News/Yahoo! News Newsmakers interview. “It’s so much bigger than that. We went from Denver to Danville interviewing people and just met with people who were using the Internet to help themselves, whether they were entrepreneurs or students or farmers.”

The tour was focused on the jobs being created across the nation as a result of the Internet, but also the power of the Internet and the freedom it allows everyone, Ohanian shared.

“But all of that rests on this premise that all links are created equal,” he said. “All that rests on the fact that it’s a flat network without hierarchies. I like saying the world is not flat, but the World Wide Web is. And preserving that technological level playing field, where all links are created equal, is so important.”

But with freedom also comes people that abuse it. And Reddit has been at the center of a story that surrounds that freedom in the last few weeks. In mid-October, a reporter at Gawker.com uncovered one of Reddit’s biggest “trolls” (or anonymous users who instigate or provoke readers).

Going by the name of “Violentacrez” on the site, the 49-year-old computer programmer had consistently posted images of child pornography and other inappropriate content.

Ohanian said that he and his team at Reddit were still trying to figure out how to handle the sort of content that was put up on the site.

“The challenge that Reddit faces, like all other social media sites, is how do we be better stewards of the technology,” Ohanian said. “I really do believe that most people are good. We always hear about the exceptional ones. Sometimes, it’s the exceptional good – but, oftentimes, it’s the exceptional bad ones. And we need to find ways as a public to curb the effects of the bad ones.

“There certainly always have been bad people and good people,” he added. “This platform, this technology, is enabling for anyone who’s on it. So that gives the potential next great founder the chance for her to start that great company – and that’s awesome. But it also gives the jerk the chance to be a jerk, and do it at scale and have lots of other people see that and witness that. There are yet no good technological solutions for humanity.”

Ohanian added that it is an issue for all social networks – not just Reddit, but also Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.

“This is something that exists throughout social media right now,” he said. “The subreddits, these individual platforms for communities, are just like Twitter accounts, they’re just like YouTube Channels.

“The people who use the platform have the ability to be offensive,” he said. “I don’t know how to deal with someone who leaves an offensive comment on Reddit, unless we find a kind of standard that we can, perhaps, all agree on. The technological solutions just aren’t there.”

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