The CEO Reddit Needs But Doesn’t Deserve


The hits just keep on coming as the dust settles following Ellen Pao’s resignation from Reddit.

Her predecessor, Yishan Wong, recently took to the site and argued that Pao was actually the final line of defense that was protecting the hate subs from getting deleted.  Wong was burned in the past for siding with Reddit’s free speech contingent over creepshots (indecent photos taken without their subject’s awareness) and for working to protect the anonymity of notorious troll moderators like Violentacrez.  Wong was also criticized for waiting nearly a week to shut down a subreddit dedicated to spreading leaked celebrity nudes.

Here are some excerpts from Wong’s post.  How much of this is true and how much is exaggeration meant to stir up anger (and web traffic) is unclear.  However, the notion that the loss of Pao, who many assumed was trying to stealthily ratchet up administrative censorship of controversial subs, will be the final blow that will lead to the shutdown of a huge crop of hate sites is deliciously ironic.

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  [aka Pao’s replacement, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman] 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!

On at least two separate occasions, the board pressed /u/ekjp [aka Ellen Pao] 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.

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.

And indeed, it looks as though the new CEO, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, is primed to conduct a sweep.

The overwhelming majority of content on reddit comes from wonderful, creative, funny, smart, and silly communities. That is what makes reddit great. There is also a dark side, communities whose purpose is reprehensible, and we don’t have any obligation to support them. And we also believe that some communities currently on the platform should not be here at all.

Neither Alexis nor I created reddit to be a bastion of free speech, but rather as a place where open and honest discussion can happen: These are very complicated issues, and we are putting a lot of thought into it. It’s something we’ve been thinking about for quite some time. We haven’t had the tools to enforce policy, but now we’re building those tools and reevaluating our policy.

Huffman will be conducting an AMA (Ask Me Anything) tomorrow.  It will be interesting to see the form that any community push back will take.  Somehow, I doubt that it will be the deluge of racist, sexist images, threats, and subs created explicitly to celebrate their hatred of him as an individual that Pao faced.

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