Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

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Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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Former Reddit Leader Explains Why Trolls Will Soon Regret Taking Down Ellen Pao

Ex-CEO Yishan Wong says a purge of hate speech on the site is imminent.

| Wed Jul. 15, 2015 2:55 PM EDT
Former Reddit CEOs Yishan Wong and Ellen Pao

Reddit's latest CEO Steve Huffman might be about to do what former CEO Ellen Pao never dared: Purge the site's notoriously freewheeling discussion boards of hate speech. Posting to the site Tuesday night, former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong argued that Pao was actually the last best hope for radical free speech on Reddit—a claim that, if true, is deeply ironic given that the denizens of Reddit's most racist and sexist discussion boards were some of the loudest voices calling for her ouster. "I don't think there's a place for such [hate speech] on reddit," Wong says Huffman once told him. Huffman, who on Friday replaced Pao, is expected to announce a new content policy for the site tomorrow.

Wong, who ran Reddit between 2012 and 2014, has been defending Pao in recent days. Earlier this week he blamed the decision to fire popular Reddit employee Victoria Taylor—the event that precipitated Pao's resignation—on the site's other cofounder, Alexis Ohanian.

Here are the key parts of Wong's post from last night, which is worth reading in its entirety:

[T]he most delicious part of this is that on at least two separate occasions, the board pressed /u/ekjp [Ellen Pao] to outright ban ALL the hate subreddits in a sweeping purge. She resisted, knowing the community, claiming it would be a shitshow. Ellen isn't some "evil, manipulative, out-of-touch incompetent she-devil" as was often depicted. She was approved by the board and recommended by me because when I left, she was the only technology executive anywhere who had the chops and experience to manage a startup of this size, AND who understood what reddit was all about. As we can see from her post-resignation activity, she knows perfectly well how to fit in with the reddit community and is a normal, funny person - just like in real life - she simply didn't sit on reddit all day because she was busy with her day job.

Ellen was more or less inclined to continue upholding my free-speech policies. /r/fatpeoplehate was banned for inciting off-site harassment, not discussing fat-shaming. What all the white-power racist-sexist neckbeards don't understand is that with her at the head of the company, the company would be immune to accusations of promoting sexism and racism: she is literally Silicon Valley's #1 Feminist Hero, so any "SJWs" [social justice warriors] would have a hard time attacking the company for intentionally creating a bastion (heh) of sexist/racist content. She probably would have tolerated your existence so long as you didn't cause any problems - I know that her long-term strategies were to find ways to surface and publicize reddit's good parts - allowing the bad parts to exist but keeping them out of the spotlight. It would have been very principled - the CEO of reddit, who once sued her previous employer for sexual discrimination, upholds free speech and tolerates the ugly side of humanity because it is so important to maintaining a platform for open discourse. It would have been unassailable.

Well, now she's gone (you did it reddit!), and /u/spez [CEO Steve Huffman] has the moral authority as a co-founder to move ahead with the purge. We tried to let you govern yourselves and you failed, so now The Man is going to set some Rules. Admittedly, I can't say I'm terribly upset.

Elizabeth Warren Wants the Federal Government to Encourage Research on Pot's Medical Benefits

She and seven other senators seek changes, including a review of the drug's classification.

| Mon Jul. 13, 2015 8:29 PM EDT

On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter to top federal drug enforcement and health officials requesting that they do more to conduct and facilitate research on the health benefits of marijuana. Among other things, she urged the government to end its monopoly on the supply of pot for research purposes, coordinate large-scale epidemiological studies on marijuana use, and assure scientists that their work on pot won't jeopardize their other federal research funding.

"While the federal government has emphasized research on the potential harms associated with the use of marijuana," says the letter, which was signed by Warren and seven other Democratic senators, "there is still very limited research on the potential health benefits of marijuana—despite the fact that millions of Americans are now eligible by state law to use the drug for medical purposes."

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services made a widely publicized move to streamline the approval of medical-marijuana studies, but Warren argues that this should be just the start of a broader effort to legitimize and institutionalize research into the benefits of pot. Her letter urges HHS to conduct its own clinical trials and facilitate communication among the 23 states that have legalized pot as medicine "in order to derive a more accurate picture of marijuana use and treatments across the country."

The senators also appear eager to see the government reevaluate marijuana's listing under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a category reserved for drugs, including heroin and LSD, that have "no currently accepted medical use." They ask for a timeline for analyzing existing pot research and making a recommendation for re-scheduling the drug. Their letter also asks whether the analysis will include comparisons with tobacco and alcohol.

Reddit's Faction of Racist Trolls Celebrates CEO Ellen Pao's Resignation

"Pao! Right in the kisser!" says a moderator of r/Coontown.

| Fri Jul. 10, 2015 6:18 PM EDT
Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao

In the minutes following today's announcement that Ellen Pao, Reddit's embattled interim CEO, would be stepping down, users of the site responded with glee. Pao has been widely criticized by many of the site's unpaid moderators for her recent tone-deaf firing of a popular employee—see here for more on what really happened with that—and for ignoring the moderators' needs and contributions to running the platform. Yet beneath the celebration lurked a disturbing undercurrent of racism. As of 2:45 p.m. PST, the second most "upvoted" comment beneath the announcement was this:

 

 

The biggest problem with the comment isn't the mocking of Pao's Asian name. It's the commenter's handle, "DylanStormRoof." Dylann Roof, of course, is the young man accused of massacring nine people at South Carolina's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last month.

Other Redditors quickly alleged that DylannStormRoof moderates a notoriously racist subreddit:

Reddit's trolls have been out to get Pao ever since she shut down five toxic subreddits last month, including one called r/shitniggerssay. They also aren't psyched that she called out Silicon Valley's misogynistic culture. That's not to say that Pao's handling of Reddit's most controversial communities is the only reason she's unpopular with users of the site, which is, after all, the 10th most trafficked on the internet. But today's reaction illustrates the challenges her replacement, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, will face if he wants to rein in the site's most offensive tendencies.

Update, July 10, 2015, 5 p.m. PT: Cooler heads on Reddit have since taken over, as they often do, burying "DylannStormRoof"'s comment and up-voting a reply pointing out its racist connotations.

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