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Reddit chief Ellen Pao quits amid furor

🕐 3 min read

Ellen Pao has resigned as interim chief executive of Reddit, the popular online message board, following widespread user criticism of the way she was running the company.

Reddit announced the change Friday in a company post, adding that the resignation was “by mutual agreement.” Pao will be replaced by Steve Huffman, Reddit’s co-founder and original chief executive.

Pao, who had been at the company only eight months, came under withering criticism for firing a popular employee, Victoria Taylor, the company’s director of talent. Taylor was beloved among Reddit’s powerful moderators, who don’t work for the company but have complete editorial control over the thousands of niche discussion sections on topics including cute animals and depression. Reddit’s message boards draw about 160 million active users.

Taylor was also a rare, public female face at Reddit and in the tech world. Amid the vitriol directed at Pao, many users pointed out the irony that Pao would have let go a prominent woman at Reddit right after losing her own bruising gender-discrimination lawsuit earlier this year.

After Taylor’s dismissal, moderators revolted, shutting public access to hundreds of discussion boards. Users also circulated an online petition — it has so far gathered more than 200,000 signatures — calling for Pao to step down.

Pao posted an apology this week for the way the Taylor firing was handled. On Friday, she released a statement on Reddit saying that she resigned because “the board asked me to demonstrate higher user growth in the next six months than I believe I can deliver while maintaining reddit’s core principles.”

She also had words for those who harassed, insulted and even leveled death threats at her. Pao said that her time as Reddit’s chief executive showed her “the good, the bad and the ugly on reddit. The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity.”

Still, she said the positive parts of Reddit outweighed the bad for her, and she thanked those who offered her support.

Reddit’s statement obliquely acknowledged the heart of many longtime Reddit users’ complaints about Pao — that she was not in tune with the community.

“Product and community are the two legs of reddit, and the board was very focused on finding a candidate who excels at both (truthfully, community is harder), which Steve does,” the statement said.

But Reddit also chastised its users for heaping contempt on Pao, whom board member Sam Altman called “a pioneer for women in the tech industry.”

“The reduction in compassion that happens when we’re all behind computer screens is not good for the world,” the post said. “People are still people, even if there is Internet between you.”

Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, originally roommates at the University of Virginia, started Reddit 10 years ago. The pair sold the company to Conde Nast in 2006; Ohanian returned to Reddit last year as its executive chairman.

Huffman said in the post that his first priorities will be to familiarize himself with the team at Reddit, make a “clear content” policy and improve tools for Reddit’s volunteer moderators.

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