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Ellen Pao Speaks Out Against Trolls Aiming to “Demean, Shame and Scare” Her Into Silence

The former Reddit CEO speaks out for the first time since her resignation.

Paul Tamburroby Paul Tamburro

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Former Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao has spoken up about the harassment she received at the hands of users of the site, as the online forum is currently in a state of disarray following a number of perceived poor executive decisions.

In a guest piece for the Washington Post, Pao described the abuse she received as “one of the largest trolling attacks in history,” and it’s almost impossible to disagree with her. Pao was brought in as CEO of Reddit after she had filed a high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer Kleiner-Perkins, riding into the company on a wave of controversy. Following Pao’s appointment a number of decisions were made by the company, such as removing hateful subreddits like r/FatPeopleHate, that led to Pao personally being targeted ahead of Reddit’s other staff, with her landmark lawsuit lending fuel to the fire that she was some sort of feminist devil wandering in and ruining everybody’s fun.

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The negative reaction to these changes were monumental, with the site’s front page becoming littered with abuse thrown in the direction of Pao, including sexist and racist posts. After many Reddit users demanded that Pao be removed from her post, she stepped down from her post and handed in her resignation – and that’s when things got interesting.

Former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong, who Pao stepped in as a replacement for, took to Reddit to state that it was co-founder Alexis Ohanian who had ordered that the changes be made to the site, not Pao, and that part of the reason that Pao was appointed was that so her presence would ensure that the site’s more morally questionable subreddits could continue to exist, as it was believed that she would prove to be a roadblock for any potential criticisms lobbed in their direction. You can read his comments in full right here.

RedditEllenPao

The Reddit front page as it appeared on the day r/FatPeopleHate was shut down.

So now Pao, emerging from out of the shadows as Redditors are forced to consider that maybe they were the bad guys in this situation, has discussed the harassment she received and the inherent issues with the topic of free speech on the site. “Reddit is the Internet, and it exhibits all the good, the bad and the ugly of the Internet,” Pao wrote. “It has been fighting this harassment in the trenches. In February, we committed to removing revenge porn from our site, and others followed our lead. In May, the company banned harassment of individuals from the site.

“Last month, we took down sections of the site that drew repeat harassers. Then, after making these policy changes to prevent and ban harassment, I, along with several colleagues, was targeted with harassing messages, attempts to post my private information online and death threats. These were attempts to demean, shame and scare us into silence.”

Pao stated that while she had received a huge amount of online abuse, there were also users on the site who had offered her supportive comments as the rest of the site called for her head, saying: “As the threats became really violent, people ended their messages with “stay safe.” Eventually, users started responding on Reddit itself, using accurate information and supportive messages to fight back against the trolls.” She concluded that “In the battle for the Internet, the power of humanity to overcome hate gives me hope,” adding: “I’m rooting for the humans over the trolls. I know we can win.”

Reddit has since hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) thread in which co-founder Steve Huffman discussed his plans for changes in the site’s content with its users, with him looking to change its attitude towards the content allowed onto the site in order for it to become a “massive force for good in the world.” 

Photo: Getty Images