Reddit Turns to Michael Seibel to Replace Alexis Ohanian

Michael Seibel at a TechCrunch event. (Photo: Getty Images)
Michael Seibel at a TechCrunch event. (Photo: Getty Images)

Less than a week ago, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian made news when he announced he was resigning from the website’s board, urging the company to replace his seat with a Black candidate. Now, it would appear Reddit has honoured his request by appointing Michael Seibel, a venture capitalist investor and entrepreneur known for promoting diversity and inclusion, to the position.

Seibel’s resume is impressive. He is a partner and CEO at Y Combinator, one of Silicon Valley’s most influential incubators that’s helped launch companies like Stripe, Airbnb, DoorDash, Coinbase, Instacart, and Dropbox. Before becoming CEO, Seibel was also the firm’s first Black partner. He’s also known for cofounding Justin.tv, which eventually became Twitch. And he’s previously backed initiatives to improve diversity within the notoriously white tech industry, including BlackTech4BlackLives and BlackTechWeekend.

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“I want to thank Steve, Alexis, and the entire Reddit board for this opportunity,” Seibel said in a statement provided to Variety. “I’ve known Steve and Alexis since 2007 and have been a Reddit user ever since. Over this period of time I’ve watched Reddit become part of the core fabric of the internet and I’m excited to help provide advice and guidance as Reddit continues to grow and tackle the challenges of bringing community and belonging to a broader audience.”

According to Variety, Seibel is getting equity in Reddit, though a company representative declined to give specifics of how Seibel is being compensated.

Overall, this is a good move for Reddit — a platform that’s been criticised time and time again over the years for enabling racism and hate speech. In response to the George Floyd protests, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman posted a milquetoast letter vowing that Reddit stood in solidarity with the Black community, and he made some vague promises that the company would be a better ally going forward. The letter was subsequently skewered by Ellen Pao, Reddit’s former interim CEO who left the company in 2015 and has been publicly critical of harassment on the platform.

“I am obligated to call you out: You should have shut down the_donald instead of amplifying it and its hate, racism, and violence,” Pao wrote on Twitter. “So much of what is happening now lies at your feet. You don’t get to say BLM when reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long.”

Since then, Huffman has penned another lengthy letter that more explicitly acknowledges Reddit’s failures in moderating racism and hate speech. In it, Huffman noted that not only do users and moderators not have enough clarity as to what administrators’ stance on racism is, but that Reddit itself sometimes reflects the hate that Black users see in the real world. “This current [content] policy lists only what you cannot do, articulates none of the values behind the rules, and does not explicitly take a stance on hate or racism,” Huffman writes. He also admits in the letter that he personally took a nonsensical stance in 2018, saying that “racism is not against the rules, but also isn’t welcome on Reddit” that “eroded our effectiveness in combating hate and racism on Reddit.”

At the very least, Huffman made good on his promise in the note to honour Ohanian’s request of hiring a Black board member to replace him.

“Few people have Michael’s deep background in tech and know the challenges and opportunities we face as well as he does, so we are honoured he is joining us,” Huffman said in a statement to Variety. “Not to mention, he is one of the smartest and kindest people in tech.”

Whether Reddit makes good on the rest of Huffman’s promises, or whether this is yet another PR stunt by a company remains to be seen. That said, bringing on Seibel is a step in the right direction — so long as Reddit’s leadership actually listens to him.

Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.