Reddit CEO praises Elon Musk as protests rock the platform

Twitter owner Elon Musk may have had an influence on Reddit’s CEO ahead of changes to the website that have resulted in a user-led rebellion on the platform. 

In an interview Thursday with NBC News, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman praised Musk’s aggressive cost-cutting and layoffs at Twitter, and said he had chatted “a handful of times” with Musk on the subject of running an internet platform. 

Huffman said he saw Musk’s handling of Twitter, which Musk purchased last year, as an example for Reddit to follow. 

“Long story short, my takeaway from Twitter and Elon at Twitter is reaffirming that we can build a really good business in this space at our scale,” Huffman said. 

“Now, they’ve taken the dramatic road,” he added, “and I guess I can’t sit here and say that we’re not either, but I think there’s a lot of opportunity here.” 

Musk shocked Silicon Valley peers with his deep cost cutting at Twitter and began his ownership of the company last fall by axing most of the company’s employees in a chaotic series of decisions that left some people doubting whether Twitter would be able to stay online.

Huffman is trying to turn Reddit profitable after decades as a money-losing website punching above its weight in internet culture. 

This week, influential volunteer moderators who manage the communities that make up the site walled off large parts of Reddit, making them inaccessible to most users as part of their demonstration. The protest is a response to part of Huffman’s business plan, which includes potentially charging other tech companies large fees for access to Reddit data. 

Huffman said there’s one concrete area where Musk’s example has been clear: job cuts. He said he had often wondered why Twitter under its previous management had struggled to be profitable on a consistent basis despite revenue in 2021 of $5.1 billion

“As a company smaller than theirs, sub-$1 billion in revenue, I used to look at Twitter and say, ‘Well, why can’t they break even at 4 or 5 billion in revenue? What about their business do we not understand?’ Because I think we should be able to do that quite handsomely,” he said. 

“And then I think one of the non-obvious things that Elon showed is what I was hoping would be true, which is: You can run a company with that many users in the ads business and break even with a lot fewer people,” Huffman said. 

Musk ended up hiring some employees back, but corporate headcount has remained well below where it was before the acquisition. Musk has also imposed other severe cost-cutting measures, such as not paying some of Twitter’s bills including rent, leading to an eviction order in Colorado. 

“They had to do some pretty violent changes and violent surgery to get there,” Huffman said. 

It is not clear if Twitter is profitable because some advertisers have left, cutting into revenue, but Huffman said the lesson was on the other side of the ledger. 

“People are talking about a lot of things on Twitter, but I think that’s the part that’s the most interesting from my point of view as a business person, is that there actually are good businesses at this scale,” he said. 

Reddit’s recent layoffs have been far more modest than Twitter’s. The company said June 6 that it was laying off about 5% of its workforce, or 90 employees

Huffman did not say how often the chats with Musk have taken place or where they’ve happened. 

Twitter and Reddit are both headquartered in San Francisco, and the privately held companies both share Fidelity as an investor. Reddit is majority-owned by Advance Publications, the parent company of Conde Nast, according to CNBC

Musk’s representatives at Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. 

Huffman said that many ordinary people do not realize that there are “two classes of company” in the world of consumer-facing tech businesses: There’s internet heavies such as Google and Facebook, and then there are much smaller but still well-known companies such as Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest and Reddit. 

“From a user’s point of view, you’re like, ‘Oh, they’re just as big. They’re just as successful. You know, maybe a little less so,’” Huffman said. 

“But you wouldn’t realize that it’s like a 20, 30x difference in revenue. And, you know, not really profitable — maybe a quarter here or there,” he said. 

Twitter had $5 billion in revenue in 2021, the year before Musk’s acquisition. Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, reported revenue that year of $117.9 billion. Alphabet, the owner of Google, reported revenue that year of $257.6 billion. 

Huffman said he has not adopted Musk’s thinking across the board. 

“There’s a lot of other things where our platforms are just different — how they think about moderation versus us,” he said. 

He didn’t cite specific examples, but one difference is their handling of former President Donald Trump and his supporters. While Musk reinstated Trump’s Twitter account, which prior management had suspended after the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, Reddit has kept in place its ban on the subreddit r/the_donald, a gathering spot for Trump’s supporters. 

Elsewhere in the interview with NBC News, Huffman criticized the organizers of this week’s blackout, saying he wanted to pursue rules changes that would allow ordinary Reddit users to vote them out. He compared the long-tenured, difficult-to-oust moderators as “landed gentry,” and some moderators fear Huffman may force them out.

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