Things aren’t looking good for interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao right now. After enduring a shitstorm of criticism following the company’s decision to fire Victory Taylor, the site’s communications director, without given the site’s moderators ample warning, an online petition calling for Pao to resign has now reached over 165,000 signatures.
Many Redditors believe that Pao’s influence on Reddit has been negative, and a number of decisions made since she joined the site have been met with overwhelming criticism. While Pao has introduced many new rules that will help diminish gender discrimination within the Reddit workplace, with her decisions in this department having been largely praised, she has also brought about a number of bold changes in terms of the way the site operates, which hasn’t gone down well with its users.
Last month Reddit banned controversial subreddits such as r/FatPeopleHate, a forum devoted to shaming, berating and humiliating fat people, a move which saw the site’s front page become littered with posts targeting Pao as the frequent users of r/FatPeopleHate spilled over onto the main site. However, while this was largely childish behavior from a vocal minority of Redditors who were offended that their right to bully overweight people online had been taken away from them, the decision to fire Victoria Taylor had far greater implications for the site.
After it was revealed by r/IAMA, the subreddit in which Victoria helped organize and conduct several high-profile Ask Me Anything interviews, that the popular Reddit employee had been ousted from her position with the company, the subreddit was set to private meaning that it wasn’t viewable by anyone other than its moderators. In act of solidarity, other subreddits began setting their profiles to private, until eventually many of the site’s most popular pages had gone dark. Now a Change.org petition has been set up in order to convince Advance Publications, the media company that owns Reddit, to force her to resign.
The petition reads:
“Ellen K. Pao is a lawyer and the chief executive officer of the Internet company Reddit Inc. After Pao lost her gender discrimination case against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins she was appointed CEO of Reddit Inc and Reddit entered into a new age of censorship. A vast majority of the Reddit community believes that Pao, “a manipulative individual who will sue her way to the top”, has overstepped her boundaries and fears that she will run Reddit into the ground. Alternative sites to Reddit.com have sprung up and have received vast amounts of traffic within the recent months.
“The communication between the Reddit administration team to its subreddit moderators is very lacking and rather unsettling after years of empty promises to the moderators to improve and provide tools to help run subreddits, and ultimately Reddit as a whole, smoothly.
“Advance Publications needs to fix this ordeal or risk irreversible harm to their international brand, Reddit Inc.
“Action must be taken to prevent Reddit from being further run into the ground.”
So will this work? I’ve said it many times before, but the success of online petitions has been proven to be minimal at best, as the slacktivism that they exemplify isn’t the kind of protest that worries companies. Aside from the petition’s creator, no one has gone out of their way to really make a stand against Pao here, other than clicking on a button on the Internet that says they also agree that she should be fired. Unless Advance Publications were the world’s most incredibly fickle company, a silly petition started by an unreasonably angry man on the Internet won’t be enough to get Ellen Pao removed from her position as Reddit CEO, though the particularly poor light she has been cast in since her appointment could well serve to harm the future of her career.
While I agreed with Pao on her decision to remove r/FatPeopleHate and other inflammatory subreddits, it is understandable why the swift firing of Victoria and the position that left the site’s moderators in, who all work for the company on a voluntary basis, was unfair. Pao herself acknowledged this, writing: “The bigger problem is that we haven’t helped our moderators with better support after many years of promising to do so. We do value moderators; they allow reddit to function and they allow each subreddit to be unique and to appeal to different communities. This year, we have started building better tools for moderators and for admins to help keep subreddits and reddit awesome, but our infrastructure is monolithic, and it is going to take some time.”
She added: “We hired someone to product manage it, and we moved an engineer to help work on it. We hired 5 more people for our community team in total to work with both the community and moderators. We are also making changes to reddit.com, adding new features like better search and building mobile web, but our testing plan needs improvement. As a result, we are breaking some of the ways moderators moderate. We are going to figure this out and fix it.”
Whether Reddit eventually comes to believe that Pao is trying to do what’s best for the site, and lets her continue without every major decision of hers being met by a tidal wave of opposition remains to be seen, but considering how reviled she has become in the site’s community, that seems unlikely. Regardless of whether or not Pao is busy doing what’s right for Reddit, it seems inevitable that if Redditors keep staging these protests on the site, it’ll only be a matter of time before its owners decide that keeping Pao as CEO won’t be worth the hassle from their users and the negative attention from the media.