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Reddit loses chief engineer just days after Interim CEO Ellen Pao's exit

Ex-Facebooker Bethanye Blount spent less than two months at Reddit before, she says, she realized that the social-news site's plans for the future may be unworkable.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
4 min read

Another critical employee at Reddit has left the company as trouble continues. Screenshot by Claire Reilly/CNET

Reddit, the traditionally unbridled social-news site and community forum, has lost another key staffer, the third executive to exit this month amid the company's effort to strike a balance for users between uninhibited speech and a climate free from abusive and other undesirable content.

Chief Engineer Bethanye Blount said Monday that she left Reddit after less than two months once she realized she couldn't deliver on the promises the company has been making to users.

"There are some very aggressive implied promises being made to the community -- in comments to [forum moderators and] quotes from board members," Blount told Recode, "and they're going to have some pretty big challenges in meeting those implied promises." The vows, she said, include delivering tools to make it easier for moderators to manage forums, and cracking down on harassment across the service. She didn't say why those promises would be hard to fulfill.

Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, who's currently serving as interim CEO, told Recode on Tuesday that Reddit is "hard at work" on a new policy regarding what sort of content can be posted in forums. He also said the company is working on moderation tools. "I don't foresee any difficulty in accomplishing either of these things in the near future," he said. And later on Tuesday, he announced that Reddit would host an online Q&A with users to discuss the company's current thinking on a new content policy.

Blount resigned Monday, Reddit spokeswoman Ashley Dawkins confirmed to CNET. She becomes the third high-level female employee to leave the site within the past two weeks, in an industry criticized for its lack of women executives. On July 2 Victoria Taylor, Reddit's well respected director of talent, was fired, and on Friday, Interim CEO Ellen Pao abruptly resigned.

Founded in 2005, Reddit -- one of the most trafficked sites on the Web, with nearly 164 million visitors -- has long seen itself as a community devoted to open and honest discussion. But its traditional anything-goes approach has allowed some of the worst aspects of the Internet to fester on the site, including the growth of racist and homophobic forums, or "subreddits," and the coordination of misogynistic campaigns against prominent women on the Internet. As a result, Reddit has joined many of the world's largest social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, in ramping up efforts to police content posted by users.

The trouble for recently departed CEO Pao started in early June when Reddit banned five subreddits, claiming they violated the company's new antiharassment policy. Vocal users cried foul, saying the bans, which affected forums criticized for racial prejudice and gay bashing, among other things, amounted to censorship.

Tempers flared again earlier this month when the site's volunteer moderators determined that Reddit had fired the popular Taylor, who was best known for operating the site's popular Ask Me Anything, or AMA, subreddit, which had hosted online Q&A sessions in which the likes of President Barack Obama and Microsoft founder Bill Gates took questions from users. Taylor was also regarded as a liaison between the company and moderators.

The firing, coupled with the shuttering of more subreddits, prompted a petition calling for Pao's resignation. When she finally exited, Pao said in a statement on the site that since last year, when she'd joined the company, Reddit had shown her "the good, the bad, and the ugly" and had at times made her "doubt humanity."

Debate continues over the reasons for Pao's exit. Blount told Recode that Reddit had put Pao on a "glass cliff." The term refers to companies placing women in leadership roles at times when the chances of failure for any executive are very high. Blount said, however, that she herself did not leave because of gender bias.

Huffman told Recode that his company doesn't have a gender discrimination problem and that he was actually looking forward to working with Blount.

"The company is growing, and we have the opportunity to improve in many areas -- including the number of women in leadership positions," Huffman said. "I am confident in our ability to recruit women at the executive level." Huffman added that a search is under way for Blount's replacement and that engineer George Pang, who was managing Blount's team for almost a year prior to her arrival, will take over on an interim basis.

Blount, who worked at Facebook before joining Reddit, said she plans to launch another startup. She previously co-founded MailRank, a service that let users prioritize important e-mail and that was acquired by Facebook in 2011.