Former Reddit product head Dan McComas sat down with NYMag’s Noah Kulwin as part of the magazine’s “The Internet Apologizes” series.
Striking a decidedly cynical tone—the article concludes with McComas saying that state of social media platforms is “awful and it’s gonna get worse”—the Reddit alum describes his time at the self-described front page of the internet.
It’s not pretty.
Aside from McComas’ gut-wrenching belief that while working at Reddit he “made the world a worse place,” the interview contains numerous anecdotes of the corporate culture he believes poisoned the site and Silicon Valley at large. Here’s some of his most damning quotes (emphasis mine):
On platforms’ inability to face up to problems:
I think that the biggest problem that Reddit had and continues to have, and that all of the platforms, Facebook and Twitter, and Discord now continue to have is that they’re not making decisions, is that there is absolutely no active thought going into their problems — problems that are going to exist in coming months or years — and what they can do to combat them.
On execs’ obsession with growth:
The incentive structure is simply growth at all costs. There was never, in any board meeting that I have ever attended, a conversation about the users, about things that were going on that were bad, about potential dangers, about decisions that might affect potential dangers.
On sites’ unrealistic valuations:
From the inside, I can tell you that the board is never asking about revenue. They honestly don’t care, and they said as much. They’re only asking about growth. They believe that if they have a billion unique visitors a month, that they have a property that is going to be worth a ton of money in some way eventually. They really do look at it in that abstract way.
On the toxic cultures of many platforms:
By focusing on growth and growth only and ignoring the problems, [Reddit, Twitter, Discord] amassed a large set of cultural norms on their platforms. Their cultural norms are different for every community, but they tend to stem from harassment or abuse or bad behavior… I really don’t believe it’s possible for either of them to catch up on the problem. I think the best that they can do is figure out how to hide this behavior from an average user. I don’t see any way that it’s going to improve. I have no hope for either of those platforms.
On platforms’ lackluster response to hateful or graphic posts:
The arguments were usually, “We don’t want to touch this because these are our most volatile users and they’ll just make things a nightmare,” and then, ultimately, these things will bubble up, make it into the press, and then we would make a decision to change things. We would deal with the immediate impact, which was painful, would last a week or two, and then it would go away. For the most part, unfortunately, I see them still following this pattern.
On the need for common sense in banning content:
These things [violent consequences of inflammatory posts] can be foreseen. Don’t be idiots about it. You’re people, you see what’s going on, you see trends that are forming, just fucking do something. It’s not that hard. That’s my advice to founders of start-ups, just be mindful of it. Or put somebody in charge of being mindful of it.
Sometimes, things really are as bad as they seem.