The head of the OPM wasn’t the only executive forced out on Friday. The interim CEO of Reddit, Ellen Pao, also decided to call it quits after the users and moderators of that site made it clear they were dissatisfied with her leadership.
Speaking to Re/code, she explained her departure was a “mutual decision” with the board, which “had a more aggressive view [on growth potential] than I did.” That sentiment is echoed by the official statement from board head Sam Altman on the change in leadership:
Ellen Pao resigned from reddit today by mutual agreement. I’m delighted to announce that Steve Huffman, founder and the original reddit CEO, is returning as CEO.
After talking up both Pao and Huffman a bit, Altman addressed the denizens of Reddit directly:
A few other points. Mods, you are what makes reddit great. The reddit team, now with Steve, wants to do more for you. You deserve better moderation tools and better communication from the admins.
Second, 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.
Third, as a redditor, I’m particularly happy that Steve is so passionate about mobile. I’m very excited to use reddit more on my phone.
As a closing note, 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. Steve’s great challenge as CEO will be continuing the work Ellen started to drive this forward.
Naturally that bit about the “sickening” things being said about Ellen Pao was the perfect opportunity for media outlets that desperately wanted to make this a story about sexism, rather than one about a community of essentially unpaid workers fed up with bad management and inexplicable rule changes. Gawker’s headline, for example, is “Misogynist Tantrum Officially Drives Ellen Pao from Reddit“:
The real question, though, is whether Reddit users’ vast and unwavering hatred for Pao played a role in this supposed “mutual decision.” Obviously, having a huge number of users regularly comparing the site’s CEO to a variety of genocidal dictators isn’t something that would be tolerated for long. And nearly every unpopular decision the site’s made since Pao came into power has blamed almost entirely on her alone, a phenomenon that seems to have popped up as a direct response to the her former lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins for gender discrimination.
All this despite there being very little indication that the various site-wide changes that enraged redditors (implementing anti-harassment guidelines, for one) were directly Pao’s fault. But that hasn’t stopped the site’s users from engaging in a perpetual, vicious virtual witch-hunt, which culminated in over 200,00 signatures on a Change.org petition asking for Pao’s removal.
Well, in her response to the protests last week Pao herself said “the buck stops with me”, so clearly she didn’t consider it a witch-hunt, and that’s not surprising because holding a chief executive responsible for policies implemented under her watch is not actually out of the ordinary. Further, contra the notion that Reddit moderators just dumped everything on Ellen Pao because she failed at suing for gender discrimination, they had been complaining about the whole site’s administration. As TechRaptor explained:
The issue these subreddits are protesting are an out of touch and uncommunicative administration team. Mods complain that the moderation tools are years out of date, that the administrators don’t engage with them nearly enough and that moderators aren’t given nearly enough support considering the vital role they play in keeping the site running. A good breakdown of grievances can be found here, in an /r/OutOfTheLoop post.
TechRaptor also caught the New York Times giving their piece on the subject a good stealth edit to emphasize the misogyny angle:
The New York Times is most recently guilty of this as a NewsDiff’s comparison of their story on Ellen Pao’s resignation shows. The original story was written by Mike Isaac who titled it “Ellen Pao Is Stepping Down as Reddit’s Chief” and presented a relatively neutral and information driven piece on the situation as a business technologies writer. That story, though, is not what you’d find if you went to the New York Times now, because nearly all of it was rewritten by David Streitfeld with reporting by Vindu Goel in San Francisco and published on the front page. It is titled “It’s Silicon Valley 2, Ellen Pao 0: Fighter of Sexism Is Out at Reddit” and is much more of an opinion heavy piece compared to the previous one.
The differences are astounding, as anyone who viewed the original article would return and find it replaced with a wholly other story dealing primarily with sexism around Reddit and how Ellen Pao was a “hero to many.”
Well who would want a mostly neutral story that just presented the facts when they could have an entirely new story that fit The Narrative™ better?
People say mean things on the Internet. If you badly administer a website that people care enough about to freely devote their time to help run, chances are some of those mean things will come your way. Do it long enough, and those people will want you replaced with someone more competent. That’s not sexism, racism, or whatever other -ism anyone can come up with, and no amount of whining will change that.