SPIN: Reddit trying to attract advertisers’ interest at the expense of free speech

SPIN: Reddit trying to attract advertisers’ interest at the expense of free speech

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Reddit, one of the most popular websites in the US, is working to lure more advertisers on its platform and increase profitability by veering from its unfiltered-speech roots.

How we got here: In the beginning, Reddit was a place where anonymity and free speech thrived – one of the key characteristics that drew a large audience to the platform. CEO Steve Huffman calls those the "wild" days.

Now, however, online platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, are being pressured to get rid of offensive and inflammatory content to combat hate and violence, among other things. Controversial comments also make advertisers leery of having their brand names connected to issues, making it harder for platforms to make money with advertising.

Background: Reddit has, in the last few years, made efforts to earn money on the platform by offering monetization options for some communities. At the same time, it has introduced new rules that hurt others – such as the r/TheDonald subreddit that was quarantined for violent comments. Last week, the company toughened its anti-bullying and harassment rules, but left them intentionally vague to leave "room for interpretation." The change affected more than 50 subreddits.

How does the advertising work? Reddit offers brands the opportunity to advertise based on interest rather than personal information, which would mean placing the ads in certain groups. Reddit's AMA feature (Ask Me Anything) will also be monetized and allow experts to discuss certain topics and products directly with users.

Meanwhile, the platform will give advertisers a "human-approved ‘whitelist' of communities that are deemed safe” and allow them to disassociate themselves with some keywords and phrases.

CEO's remarks: “Advertisers are looking for other places to spend. We have a tailwind there in that they’d like alternatives ... we’re killing people on price," said Hoffman. "For now, profitability is a “moving target. It’s something we’d like to kind of build toward, but our priority ... is really growth and continued development of the business. We grew up on the frontier of the internet, so we’ve seen it all."

Comments: “Historically, clients have been concerned about some of the content on the site, but as they move to clean that up, I think it’s helped make it a much more acceptable site for advertisers,” said Mark Read, chief executive of British multinational firm WPP.

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