Redditors howled at these changes — and Mr. Wong’s successor as C.E.O., Ellen Pao, was chased out by a horde of angry users — but the company’s pivot to respectability was an undeniable success. Reddit’s image has gradually improved under a co-founder, Steve Huffman, who came back in 2015 to run the site as chief executive, and Reddit was able to build the ad-based business model that sustains it today.

In particular, I want to single out three steps Reddit took to clean up its platform, all of which were instrumental in paving the way for the company’s public debut.

First, the company took aim at bad spaces, rather than bad individuals or bad posts.

Reddit, unlike other social media sites, is organized by topic; users can join “subreddits” devoted to gardening, anime or dad jokes. That meant that once the company made new rules banning hate speech, harassment and extremism, it faced an important question: Should we enforce the new rules user by user or post by post, as new violations are reported, or should we proactively shut down entire subreddits where these rules have been consistently broken?

Reddit, to its credit, decided on the less popular option. It nuked thousands of offensive and hateful subreddits, attaching culpability not to individual posts or users but to the spaces where toxic things frequently happen, on the theory that online spaces, like offline ones, often develop customs and norms that are hard to dislodge.

Harsh as it was, the approach worked. Years later, when researchers studied these changes, they found that Reddit’s subreddit bans had led to a measurable reduction in overall toxicity on the site. Users who had frequented the banned communities largely either left Reddit entirely or changed their behavior. The toxic spaces didn’t reconstitute themselves, and rule-abiding Redditors got the benefits of a cleaner, less hateful platform.


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Credit: NYTimes.com

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