Reddit users found themselves inadvertently hurling insults towards moderators of one of the largest pro-Donald Trump communities on the internet this week as the result of a prank pulled off by none other than the website’s own CEO.
Steve Huffman, Reddit’s top executive, admitted Thursday to editing several comments posted online by other Reddit users after he personally came under fire this week following the website’s decision to shut down a forum devoted to a conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton’s recent presidential campaign and a supposed pedophile ring operated out of a D.C. pizzeria.
Prior to being shutdown this week, Reddit’s “Pizzagate” forum served as a platform for users who claim the restaurant, Comet Ping Pong, is at the center of a child-abuse ring tied to John Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s former campaign manager.
Rumors of the supposed scandal began circulating prior to the Nov. 8 election as a result of leaked emails obtained from Mr. Podesta’s personal Gmail account, and eventually resulted in the pizzeria’s owner, James Alefantis, contacting the FBI after receiving dozens of harassing phone calls and internet messages from proponents of the conspiracy, The New York Times reported.
In the aftermath of the Times report, Reddit announced that it had banned the “Pizzagate” forum because its users had been sharing personal and confidential information in violation of the website’s policies. “We don’t want witchhunts on our site,” reads the announcement that now appears on the former page of the Pizzagate subreddit after since it was taken offline Wednesday.
Reddit’s decision to purge the Pizzagate forum from one of the world’s most popular websites quickly prompted a backlash aimed at its CEO, and users soon took towards lashing out at Mr. Huffman on his own platform by publishing obscenity-laced comments directed toward Mr. Huffman’s personal Reddit account, “spez.”
Mr. Huffman revealed Thursday that he spent “about an hour” personally modifying those obscene comments by replacing his own user name with the handles of moderators who oversee a Reddit forum devoted to Mr. Trump, r/the_donald, in turn directing those rude remarks to pro-Trump supporters.
“It’s been a long week here trying to unwind the r/pizzagate stuff. As much as we try to maintain a good relationship with you all, it does get old getting called a pedophile constantly,” Mr. Huffman wrote.
“As the CEO, I shouldn’t play such games, and it’s all fixed now,” Mr. Huffman added. “Our community team is pretty pissed at me, so I most assuredly won’t do this again.”
Mr. Huffman hadn’t abused his privileges in the past to anonymous edit Reddit comments, he claimed in a followup post.
“This was a case of me trolling the trolls for a bit,” he explained.
Mr. Huffman took the helm of Reddit in 2015 after its former CEO, Ellen Pao, resigned shortly after the website similarly banned multiple subreddits over harassment. Alexa, an internet analytics company, currently ranks Reddit as the eighth-most-popular website in the United States and worldwide.
Reddit declined to comment when reached by Business Insider, which first reported Mr. Huffman’s actions.