This is the story of Reddit: its founding by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, early sale to Condé-Nast, rapid turnover of several top executives, and eventual return of the founders. It is an unusual story both because of the revolving door of leadership, and because Reddit is such a strange site. It has developed its own subcultures, many of which are toxic in various ways.

Reddit’s first employee, Chris Slowe, gives this explanation for how the site’s moderators fumbled in their early attempts to handle inappropriate content and why Huffman was able to have an impact after his return:

“Things that should be treated as case law started getting turned into the Constitution.” What he meant was that standalone, and often poor, decisions to allow certain behavior or content ended up being elevated to govern everything that happened on Reddit. That incoherent and disjointed constitution then dictated that when completely immoral content… showed up on the site, it was considered fine.

Never was this tension more apparent than when Huffman stepped back into the CEO role. Huffman wasn’t just the new CEO; he was Reddit’s James Madison. As Reddit’s “creator,” the author of most of the site’s initial codebase, he was imbued with the power to rewrite its constitution.

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