Alexis Ohanian is the co-founder of the social news aggregation website Reddit. Shortly after graduating from UVA, he and classmate Steve Huffman founded the company with startup capital from Y Combinator, and in 2006 it was bought by Condé Nast. Ohanian stayed on for three more years until he retired to pursue a Kiva fellowship in Armenia. In 2009 he founded Breadpig, an "uncorporation" that creates and sells "geeky products" and donates all its non-sustainable profits to charity.
Question: Do you think marijuana should be legalized?
Alexis Ohanian: For me, it’s mostly as a not-that-frequent marijuana smoker, it is more – it is more than just such – it is more a Condémnation of the war on drugs and the epic, epic failure that it has been. And I would love to see legalization just, not just because I know the California budget could use a little bit of revenue these days, and I’m sure once the more states realize the tremendous funding source it will be, that will ultimately be what sways their opinion. But it’s also just really frustrating to see all these side effect of prohibition, which is really what it is. It is prohibition and if you remember your U.S. history, of course, that didn’t work out too well for booze. Actually it worked out really well for organized crime, and shocker – organized crime is doing really well by the fact that marijuana is currently illegal.
And so for all those reasons, I would love to see it – love, love, love, to see it legalized. But I’ll probably talk about those in the video. So act surprised when you hear me say the exact same things again.
Question: Why do you think the Internet loves marijuana?
Alexis Ohanian: Because they’re all stoners. I’d like to think that Reddit is a really good site to read when you’re high. I mean, I have no experience doing that. I think, okay I think in particular, so we say the internet, and when we talk about the internet we’re talking about the internet that sends like Justin Beaver to North Korea. Like we’re talking about a special part of the internet, the really active one. The people who visit Reddit, who visit Digg, who visits Fark, who may even visit 4chan, these are very active internet folks. And I think for the most part, they are fairly – they are either left of center, or Libertarian. And a lot of those really, really active users tend to fall into one of those two camps politically, at least in my own sort of scientific observations. And it turns out, both of those groups are really for legalization and I think that’s just sort of the perfect storm of why they love weed. And again because, if you’re going to be high and in front of a computer, what better place to go than the brows Reddit and add a lot of pages to our account. Although the session times on places like marijuana Reddit and Trees Reddit do tend to be a little higher than other spots on the site. I don’t know why.
Question: What happened between Reddit and Condé Nast with respect to the Proposition 19 ads?
Alexis Ohanian: This was unfortunately an example where it could have been a total non-issue. It could have – that ad would have run as, if Team Reddit were concerned, I am sure that ad would have just run just like all the other very political ads that come up whether it’s through Google Ad Sense or rather Adwords or whether other sponsored headlines get submitted. Unfortunately though, **** folks got involved and that was the word. What they published was what they were told that was the company directive. And given – I think given the nature of Reddit, given the fact that users have total control of the posts or whatever they want about **** about, Reddit about us and we don’t censor it, that is a very different beast from every other traditional publication that they work with where editors have control.
You know, the New Yorker is going to have articles in their front page that the editor deems worthy of having on the front page and that works for them. That works very well for sites like TheNewYorker.com. But for Reddit, it is a very, very different scenario. And so when it comes to things like whether or not you’re going to take money for an ad, one has to be prepared for the backlash should one say no because it just means that that person has a very easy channel, Reddit.com/R/Trees to find an audience that’s receptive to his message, which is they won’t let us run this ad about legalizing pot and find a voice. And we don’t – I can’t say we any more. Reddit did not ban that story. Reddit did not censor that story. That story was on the front page and Reddit responded with, I think, I felt like total candor about the situation and ultimately ended up running the ads for free, which seems like a pretty good deal in the end.