Reddit CEO Ellen Pao Resigns Following Week-Long Backlash

Reddit CEO Ellen Pao has resigned after a week of uproar over the company’s firing of long-time staffer Victoria Taylor. Pao, who was serving as Reddit’s interim CEO, is leaving the company and also resigning her seat on Reddit’s board. Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman is taking over as CEO of the company effective immediately.

Lead Reddit investor Sam Altman announced Pao’s resignation with a post to the site, which thanked Pao for her contributions to the company and called her “a pioneer for women in the tech industry.”

Pao and the rest of Reddit’s leadership came under fire late last week after the firing of the company’s director of communications Victoria Taylor, who was best known for her work on Reddit’s popular “ask me anything” community interviews. Taylor’s layoff was met with widespread protests, which included community moderators temporarily blocking access to popular sections of the site.

The uproar — and Pao’s resignation — illustrate Reddit’s struggles as it is trying to run a successful business based on contributions of a large and often very vocal user base. Reddit is as popular as it is because it has long given users the freedom to build their own communities, and largely define their own rules.

The company has allowed users to explore almost any subject, which has led to issues with illegal pornography and hate speech in the past; Reddit has long tried to solve these issues with self-policing led by unpaid moderators, only at times interfering to prevent illegal activities.

That libertarian spirit, however, has also led to openly hostile attacks, some of which had been directed against Pao in recent days. Altman acknowledged this in his post, writing:

“It was sickening to see some of the things redditors wrote about Ellen. The reduction in compassion that happens when we’re all behind computer screens is not good for the world. People are still people even if there is Internet between you. If the reddit community cannot learn to balance authenticity and compassion, it may be a great website but it will never be a truly great community.”

At the same time, Reddit has been trying to increase monetization. In the aftermath of Taylor’s firing, reports surfaced that the company was planning to add more video interviews and other sponsored content to generate more money with popular features on the site, something that Taylor apparently advised against.

Altman also commented on the tensions between Reddit and its community Friday:

“Redditors, you deserve clarity about what the content policy of reddit is going to be. The team will create guidelines to both preserve the integrity of reddit and to maintain reddit as the place where the most open and honest conversations with the entire world can happen.”

Pao joined Reddit a little over two years ago and became the company’s interim CEO at the end of 2014. Previously, she had worked at venture capital investment company Kleiner Perkins. In 2012, Pao made headlines when she filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins. Pao lost that lawsuit in March, but the case sparked a debate about gender and racial inequalities in Silicon Valley.

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