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Reddit Has Self-Imploded and Ellen Pao Must Be Ecstatic

As more of the company's secrets are revealed, it turns out that Ellen Pao was actually fighting for what the Reddit community wanted.

Paul Tamburroby Paul Tamburro

Former Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao. (Photo: Getty Images)

Reddit is having some pretty major problems at the moment, and the issue with this is that as a pretty open company, these problems are being broadcast for its entire community to see.

Ever since the appointment of Ellen Pao as interim CEO the forum has been bombarded with criticisms, but now it’s steadily being revealed that Pao wasn’t responsible for Reddit’s perceived problems, and now the site’s major figureheads are being called into questions for their actions surrounding a number of high-profile incidents that have taken place on Reddit over the past couple of months.

Former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong, who Pao replaced in the role, took to the site to spill a few alleged truths on Monday, along with criticizing the actions of co-founder Alexis Ohanian in the wake of Pao’s resignation and claiming that it was he who had called for the firing of Victoria Taylor, an incident which saw the Reddit community revolt against Pao believing it to be her decision.

Now Wong has gone on record to reveal a few more details regarding some other recent decisions made at Reddit that upset its users, including the cull of offensive subreddits such as r/FatPeopleHate.

YishanWong

Former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong.

Here’s the lengthy post from Wong, in which he discusses how Pao actually fought to keep some of the site’s more hateful, controversial subreddits, and didn’t lead the charge to ban them as had been suggested by the Reddit community:

AYYYYYY LMAO

How’s everyone doing? This is AWESOME!

There’s something I neglected to tell you all this time (“executive privilege”), but I’m declassifying a lot of things these days. Back around the time of the /r/creepshots debacle, I wrote to /u/spez for advice. I had met him shortly after I had taken the job, and found him to be a great guy. Back in the day when reddit was small, the areas he oversaw were engineering, product, and the business aspects – those are the same things I tend to focus on in a company (each CEO has certain areas of natural focus, and hires others to oversee the rest). As a result, we were able to connect really well and have a lot of great conversations – talking to him was really valuable.

Well, when things were heating around the /r/creepshots thing and people were calling for its banning, I wrote to him to ask for advice. The very interesting thing he wrote back was “back when I was running things, if there was anything racist, sexist, or homophobic I’d ban it right away. I don’t think there’s a place for such things on reddit. Of course, now that reddit is much bigger, I understand if maybe things are different.”

I’ve always remembered that email when I read the occasional posting here where people say “the founders of reddit intended this to be a place for free speech.” Human minds love originalism, e.g. “we’re in trouble, so surely if we go back to the original intentions, we can make things good again.” Sorry to tell you guys but NO, that wasn’t their intention at all ever. Sucks to be you, /r/coontown – I hope you enjoy voat!

The free speech policy was something I formalized because it seemed like the wiser course at the time. It’s worth stating that in that era, we were talking about whether it was ok for people to post creepy pictures of women taken legally in public. That’s shitty, but it’s a far cry from the extremes of hate that some parts of the site host today. It seemed that allowing creepers to post (anonymized) pictures of women taken in public, in a relatively small subreddit that never showed up on the front page, was a small price to pay for making it clear that we were a place welcoming of all opinions and discourse.

Having made that decision – much of reddit’s current condition is on me. I didn’t anticipate what (some) redditors would decide to do with freedom. reddit has become a lot bigger – yes, a lot better – AND a lot worse. I have to take responsibility.

But… the most delicious part of this is that on at least two separate occasions, the board pressed /u/ekjp to outright ban ALL the hate subreddits in a sweeping purge. She resisted, knowing the community, claiming it would be a shitshow. Ellen isn’t some “evil, manipulative, out-of-touch incompetent she-devil” as was often depicted. She was approved by the board and recommended by me because when I left, she was the only technology executive anywhere who had the chops and experience to manage a startup of this size, AND who understood what reddit was all about. As we can see from her post-resignation activity , she knows perfectly well how to fit in with the reddit community and is a normal, funny person – just like in real life – she simply didn’t sit on reddit all day because she was busy with her day job.

Ellen was more or less inclined to continue upholding my free-speech policies. /r/fatpeoplehate was banned for inciting off-site harassment, not discussing fat-shaming. What all the white-power racist-sexist neckbeards don’t understand is that with her at the head of the company, the company would be immune to accusations of promoting sexism and racism: she is literally Silicon Valley’s #1 Feminist Hero, so any “SJWs” would have a hard time attacking the company for intentionally creating a bastion (heh) of sexist/racist content. She probably would have tolerated your existence so long as you didn’t cause any problems – I know that her long-term strategies were to find ways to surface and publicize reddit’s good parts – allowing the bad parts to exist but keeping them out of the spotlight. It would have been very principled – the CEO of reddit, who once sued her previous employer for sexual discrimination, upholds free speech and tolerates the ugly side of humanity because it is so important to maintaining a platform for open discourse. It would have been unassailable.

Well, now she’s gone (you did it reddit!), and /u/spez has the moral authority as a co-founder to move ahead with the purge. We tried to let you govern yourselves and you failed, so now The Man is going to set some Rules. Admittedly, I can’t say I’m terribly upset.

So essentially what Wong is suggesting is that with Pao gone, there is no figurehead to prevent critics of the site from, er, criticizing the site. As I previously noted, Reddit’s banning of subreddits such as r/FatPeopleHate led the site’s community to upvote posts to the front page containing abuse targeted towards Pao, including jabs at her for being a “Feminazi” or “SJW.” However, as Wong puts it, it was believed in the company that Pao’s reputation – she filed a heavily publicized gender discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner-Perkins back in 2012 that was widely hailed as a brave move, despite her losing it in March – would lead to the site’s more controversial subreddits to remain in place as she would, in Wong’s opinion, be given a free pass from those most likely to complain about the existence of r/FatPeopleHate and other offensive forums.

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With Pao gone, Wong now believes that new CEO Steve Huffman is going to put in place new rules that will lead to a number of offensive subreddits being shut down, a move which while quite sensible and, given the kind of clientele it attracts to the site, completely agreeable, will not sit well with those on Reddit who believe that this will make Reddit a platform less welcoming of free speech.

AlexisOhanian

Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s an incredibly messy situation for a site that’s steadily pissing off a number of its users, but there is at least one person involved in this drama that must be feeling pretty good with themselves right now, and that’s Ellen Pao.

As more and more information regarding Pao’s fight for many facets of the site she was accused of personally shutting down, and with Alexis Ohanian’s alleged wrongdoing when it came to her resignation being brought to the forefront of the debate by Wong, many people are rethinking their stance on the former interim CEO and, as Wong puts it, the Reddit community’s insistence that she was removed from her post may now lead to it receiving the changes that they didn’t want being made. 

So the Reddit community has seemingly shot itself in the foot, Alexis Ohanian looks like the bad guy and Yishan Wong has revealed so many company secrets that he’ll struggle to be considered a trustworthy hire ever again. Meanwhile, Ellen Pao must now be looking at the fallout from her departure, remembering the torrent of abuse she received due to decisions that weren’t hers and smiling to herself that Reddit now has to lay in the bed it’s made for itself.