Revolt! Reddit uprising is determined to oust Ellen Pao

The interim CEO's apology falls on deaf ears after the firing of a key staffer stirs new policies. Poor communication with Reddit users hasn't helped.

Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
Terry Collins
3 min read

Update, July 10 at 3:20 p.m. PT: Interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao stepped down Friday after controversy over the firing of a key staffer and debates over free speech on the popular Internet message board.

Ellen Pao, interim CEO at Reddit, is under fire from the site's volunteer moderators unhappy with her leadership. Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao is stuck in the crosshairs of hundreds of thousands of users who want her to step down from the community-curated news site.

The flash point: The abrupt firing last week of Victoria Taylor, the director of talent who oversaw Reddit's popular Ask Me Anything "subreddit," or forum, that lets users interact, in real time, with industry and national leaders, including Bill Gates and President Obama. Taylor also acted as liaison of sorts between the company's executives and the volunteer moderators who oversee virtually all of the site's forums.

The moderators revolted -- shutting down dozens of subreddits, each with millions of users. That's because Reddit has virtually no control over its forums, instead relying on moderators to keep things running smoothly. Reddit also expected moderators to do more with less. And, say moderators, Taylor was among the few Reddit executives who communicated with them and helped them "meet the challenges running a site read by millions."

Taylor broke her silence with a post on Reddit late Wednesday, thanking her supporters: "Your voices matter. You proved that this weekend. And really, this weekend wasn't about me. It was about you. And if I know one thing about this community, it's that you'll continue making your voices heard. And that's an inspiration," she wrote.

"You can take the woman out of reddit, but you can't take the reddit out of the woman. I believe in you. And that's a promise," she said.

Founded in 2005, Reddit has grown to become one of the most trafficked sites on the Web -- last month, it counted almost 164 million visitors -- and along the way has become known as "the front page of the Internet."

Almost immediately after Taylor's departure, a 3-week-old Change.org petition calling for Pao's resignation drew hundreds of thousands of signatures. Petitioners claim Pao is ushering "a new age of censorship" at Reddit and say they fear "she will run Reddit into the ground." They also buy into the unfavorable characterization stemming from her failed sex-discrimination lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, calling her "a manipulative individual who will sue her way to the top."

Pao apologized on Friday and again on Monday, admitting Reddit had "screwed up" for years.

Her apologies might not be enough to win over Reddit's demanding users and moderators. Pao, who has been interim CEO for almost eight months, could be ousted just like Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich. He was forced to resign last year after only nine days as CEO, as users complained about his opposition to gay marriage and his leadership skills.

Here's a timeline of Pao under fire:

June 10: Reddit bans five community subreddits, including ones that promoted homophobia, racism and fat-shaming, claiming they violated the company's antiharassment policy adopted in May. Many users say the ban violated their free speech.

July 2: Reddit fires Taylor, the site's well-regarded director of talent and quasi-liaison between the company and volunteer moderators. In response, moderators take dozens of subreddits private, redirecting millions of readers to static landing pages.

July 6: An online petition filed three weeks earlier seeking to remove Pao gains more than 150,000 signatures. Pao apologizes for longstanding miscommunication between Reddit leaders and users. She vows to make changes.

July 8: Two Reddit moderators, Brian Lynch and Courtnie Swearingen, write a New York Times op-ed piece explaining their reasons for shutting down the forums. The pair said they also wanted to send a message to "tone-deaf" leaders.

"We feel strongly that this incident is more part of a reckless disregard for the company's own business and for the work the moderators and users put into the site," they said. "Dismissing Victoria Taylor was part of a long pattern of insisting the community and the moderators do more with less.

"Miscommunication implies there was any communication at all."

Update, 4:21 p.m. PT: With comments from Taylor's Reddit post.