Reddit CEO Ellen Pao resigns after weeks of turmoil

The calls of thousands of Reddit users have been answered, as the company announces the site's co-founder, Steve Huffman, will become CEO

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The Independent Online

Ellen Pao, the embattled interim CEO of the massive online community Reddit, has resigned.

Sam Altman, a Reddit board member, announced in a post on the site that Pao has resigned "by mutual agreement", and said that Steve Huffman, co-founder of the site and its original CEO, will return to take her position.

Altman said: "We are thankful for Ellen's many contributions to Reddit and the technology industry generally. She brought focus to chaos, recruited a world-class team of executives, and drove growth."

Reddit is the 33rd most-visited site on the internet, and has around 20 million people visiting it every month.

He added that Pao will remain as an advisor to the board until the end of 2015.

Pao became interim CEO of Reddit after Yishan Wong resigned, apparently over disagreements about Reddit moving its offices to San Francisco.

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Pao lost a gender discrimation lawsuit against her former employer in March 2015

During her time in the position, she oversaw the banning of five 'subreddits' - forums dedicated to single topics that exist within the boundaries of Reddit.

These subreddits were all comparatively small, and generally hate-filled - one, named 'Fat People Hate', was dedicated to posting hatred targeted towards overweight and obese people. The company announced that subreddits that allowed users to harass individuals would be banned.

Many other subreddits, some significantly more hateful than the five that were banned, continue to exist. The company said it would be "banning behaviour, not ideas", and many racist, misogynistic and homophobic subreddits continued to exist because they did not directly target or harass individuals.

Many Reddit users saw the banning of these five subreddits as an attack on free speech. Others objected to what they saw as hypocrisy, as many larger and more hateful subreddits evaded the ban.

Those who objected to the banning began to pour scorn on Pao, filling the site's homepage with posts comparing her to a Nazi. A petition was started calling for her resignation, which gained hundreds of thousands of signatures in days.

 

Later, Reddit's communications director Victoria Taylor was fired, under circumstances that are still murky. Taylor was responsible for co-ordinating the site's 'Ask Me Anything' (AMA) question and answer sessions. A subreddit devoted to these is one of the site's most popular, and in the past has hosted sessions from Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Sir David Attenborough.

Taylor was responsible, amongst other things, for organising these sessions, and assisting volunteer community moderators with running them.

Her firing prompted a huge wave of outrage on the site, one which spread beyond the initial group who disagreed with the banning of subreddits. More hate was directed at Pao, and a minority of trolls made death threats towards her.

Hundreds of the site's biggest subreddits were suspended by their moderators, who wanted to make the site 'go dark' in protest at Taylor's sacking, effectively preventing millions of viewers from accessing their favourite content. Thousands more signed the petition, and it seems like Reddit has finally caved to the backlash as Pao steps down.

Possibly due to the controversy that was sweeping the site, the number of monthly users dropped by around 14 million, to only 6 million users a month.

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A petition calling for Pao's resignation has over 213,000 signatures at the time of writing

In his post on the site, Altman said it was "sickening to see some of the things Redditors [a nickname for Reddit users] had written about Ellen."

He added: "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," Altman wrote, seemingly referring to Pao's efforts to cut down on the harassment and abuse that takes place on the site.

Many Redditors welcomed the changes - even though the majority did not express hatred towards Pao, she was overwhelmingly unpopular across the site in the final stretch of her time as CEO.

In response to the announcement, many posted jokes and celebrated Pao's departure, but one user summed up the mood, writing: "Good. [Pao is] not Hitler/Satan/etc, she's just a really bad fit for either growing/maintaining Reddit or successfully monetising it."

"Reddit got really lucky that there's no other 'Reddit Killer' in the wings. Had there been a good replacement the last few weeks would have been the story of the complete destruction of this place."

Until the next controversy inevitably surfaces, the recent turmoil that the massive site has undergone is over.

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