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Reddit 'fesses up to just a little Russian reaming

CEO says propaganda's a worry, but the deeper problem is Americans' credulity

By Simon Sharwood

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Searchers for Russian influence on the United States 2016 presidential election have of late swung their searchlights towards Reddit, which has tried to explain its role in the affair.

Co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman, aka "Spez", took to the site on Monday March 5th with a his thoughts on the matter. Titled "In response to recent reports about the integrity of Reddit, I'd like to share our thinking", the post said the site is conducting an "ongoing investigation" and therefore can't share all it knows.

"While transparency is important, we also want to be careful to not tip our hand too much while we are investigating," he said. "We take the integrity of Reddit extremely seriously, both as the stewards of the site and as Americans."

On the topic of ads, Huffman said Reddit reviews all it is asked to carry by hand. "We don't see a lot of ads from Russia, either before or after the 2016 election," he added, "and what we do see are mostly ads promoting spam and ICOs." The site won't accept any ads from Russia at present.

On the matter of "direct propaganda … from accounts we suspect are of Russian origin or content linking directly to known propaganda domains", Huffman said Reddit is "doing our best to identify and remove it." To date that's mean removing "a few hundred accounts"

Huffman labelled "indirect propaganda" as "the most complex" challenge the site faces.

"For example, the Twitter account @TEN_GOP is now known to be a Russian agent,' the CEO said. "@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."

And then the money shot: "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."

Huffman ended by saying Reddit will co-operate with congressional inquiries into the Russain mess. He also expressed optimism that the United States current bout of navel-gazing and/or denial that navel-gazing is needed "will actually reinvigorate Americans to be more vigilant, hold ourselves to higher standards of discourse, and fight back against propaganda, whether foreign or not."

The hope of more refined discourse is quite a statement given Reddit's infamous raucousness is part of its appeal for many users. Indeed, some subreddits are not immediately apparent as more civil than some of the internet's fever swamps. Yet if Huffman's optimism is correct, his own site could yet be part of the salvation of us all. ®

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