Alexis Ohanian, the founder and former CEO of Reddit, stepped down from his position on the company’s board Friday as the U.S. roils with nationwide protests against police brutality after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man.
Ohanian is calling on the company he founded to fill his position with a black board member, a high-profile step for a company with its own rocky track record around issues of race.
“I believe resignation can actually be an act of leadership from people in power right now,” Ohanian said in his announcement. “To everyone fighting to fix our broken nation: do not stop.”
With the decision, Ohanian also announced that future gains of his company stock would be invested in the black community, “chiefly to curb racial hate.” That amount could total to around $50 million, according to reliable sources. His first move will be to give $1 million to Know Your Rights Camp, an organization founded by Colin Kaepernick that focuses on self-empowerment and safety for black and brown communities.
Many leaders within tech are calling for the industry to have its own reckoning with entrenched racism, an effort Ohanian’s move may amplify. Tech companies have long been criticized for their broad lack of black leadership at the highest levels, a failing that likely factors into their myriad policy failures around race — like the fact that Facebook only banned white nationalism one year ago.
“I co-founded @reddit 15 years ago to help people find community and a sense of belonging. It is long overdue to do the right thing. I’m doing this for me, for my family, and for my country” Ohanian wrote on Twitter. “I’m saying this as a father who needs to be able to answer his black daughter when she asks: ‘What did you do?’ ”
Update: Reddit CEO Steve Huffman (u/spez) said that the company would honor the request to bring on a black board member in Ohanian’s place.
Ohanian stepped away from his daily duties at Reddit in 2018 but kept a seat on the board at the time. His transition to being more hands-off at the company he founded has been gradual over the last few years as he spent more time on Initialized Capital, an early-stage venture fund he co-founded. In recent years, Ohanian has also become a more outspoken advocate for policies like paid family leave, calling for more equitable, flexible leave policies and citing his own experience as a father. In 2017, Ohanian had a daughter with his wife, tennis legend Serena Williams.
Reddit occupies a unique place among social media platforms. It has largely avoided the spotlight of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but not for lack of its own systemic problems. Though it hasn’t been as high-profile, the platform has faced its own reckoning around harmful content in recent years for hosting virulently racist content on subcommunities like r/blackpeoplehate, r/The_Donald and others. Reddit has taken action against those communities over time, either banning them outright or placing them in a state of “quarantine” where they are not surfaced in search or recommendations and require a user to click through to view them.
The company’s history with diversifying its leadership has been spotty. In 2015, internal turmoil at the company and a backlash from its users led to the resignation of the company’s interim CEO, Ellen Pao. As we reported in 2016, more than a dozen senior Reddit employees, many of them women and people of color, left the company in the resulting tumult. As it continued its overdue campaign to crack down on violence and hate speech, Reddit brought in its first female board member, Porter Gale, last year.
In a post on Reddit, Huffman also addressed the company’s troubled history of allowing often violent and extreme racist content to flourish on the platform.
“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 said.
He also acknowledged concerns from employees about the company’s policy decisions, expressed this week in response to an email he sent out about ongoing protests and the killing of George Floyd.
“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.