Reddit boss Steve Huffman admits the site has been affected by Russian propaganda
Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman has admitted the social network has been impacted by Russian propaganda, specifically by its users unwittingly promoting fake content.
In a statement on the social network, Huffman says “we don’t want to tip our hand too much while we are investigating”, before eventually revealing the site has been impacted by “indirect propaganda”.
“[Known Russian agent] @TEN_GOP’s Tweets were amplified by thousands of Reddit users, and sadly, from everything we can tell, these users are mostly American, and appear to be unwittingly promoting Russian propaganda”, the Reddit boss admits.
Earlier in his statement, Huffman largely dismisses concerns about Russian ads appearing on the site. “We don’t see a lot of ads from Russia, either before or after the 2016 election, and what we do see are mostly ads promoting spam and ICOs,” he explains, marking a clear difference between Reddit and Facebook. “Presently, ads from Russia are blocked entirely, and all ads on Reddit are reviewed by humans.”
As far as “direct propaganda” is concerned, Huffman claims Reddit has banned only a relatively small number of offending accounts, and that most of these were removed in the period leading up to the US election. “We have found and removed a few hundred accounts, and of course, every account we find expands our search a little more. The vast majority of suspicious accounts we have found in the past months were banned back in 2015–2016 through our enhanced efforts to prevent abuse of the site generally.”
The challenge with the indirect propaganda problem, as Huffman goes on to explain, is that the responsibility lies with the public as much as it does with moderators.
“I believe the biggest risk we face as Americans is our own ability to discern reality from nonsense, and this is a burden we all bear. I wish there was a solution as simple as banning all propaganda, but it’s not that easy. Between truth and fiction are a thousand shades of grey. It’s up to all of us—Redditors, citizens, journalists—to work through these issues”.
However, he’s hopeful that as the US public learns to identify fake news, that they’ll all be better off for it at the end.
“It’s somewhat ironic, but I actually believe what we’re going through right now will actually reinvigorate Americans to be more vigilant, hold ourselves to higher standards of discourse, and fight back against propaganda, whether foreign or not.”
I’m not sure I hold such an optimistic view. It’s difficult to see how some social media users, especially those very set in their views, will be motivated to learn to identify trustworthy sources if it’s not something they’ve previously been concerned with. Higher standards of discourse and fighting against propaganda all sounds great, but if people are only interacting in relatively small echo chambers, such misleading content can and probably will still go largely unchallenged.