Reddit slammed by former CEO Ellen Pao for 'amplifying' racism and hate

Current CEO Steve Huffman says Reddit doesn't tolerate hate. But Pao isn't having it.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

Ellen Pao

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Former  Reddit  CEO  Ellen Pao harshly criticized the tech company on Tuesday after it published an open letter condemning racism, with Pao saying the social network knowingly makes money off hate. "You don't get to say BLM when reddit nurtures and monetizes white supremacy and hate all day long," Pao tweeted, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Current Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, known as u/spez on the platform, had sent the open letter to his staff on Monday and also published it on Twitter. "We do not tolerate hate, racism, and violence, and while we have work to do to fight these on our platform, our values are clear," he wrote.

Pao, who served as the company's interim CEO from late 2014 to mid-2015, retweeted a link to the letter along with her response, saying she felt a responsibility to take Reddit to task.

Reddit didn't respond to a request for comment.

A number of tech companies are contributing to an outpouring of public support for the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer last week. But with that outpouring is coming a backlash from critics who say some of these companies haven't played an active role in quashing racism in the past, or have even allowed it to flourish.

The NFL and NBA subreddits, both large and active forums, echoed Pao's sentiment, going private to protest the site's policies. When navigating to the subreddits, a user will encounter messages asking Reddit management to institute stronger policies against bigotry and hatred on the platform.


The NFL subreddit was closed to protest racism on the site.

Screenshot by CNET

The NBA subreddit was closed to protest racism on the site.

Screenshot by CNET

Both sites will be shuttered for 24 hours.

Reddit has long been criticized for not ridding its platform of racist forums, especially the subreddit called "the_donald," which Pao referred to in her tweet. The subreddit, formed in 2015 as Donald Trump announced his presidential election campaign, has a lengthy history of playing host to conspiracy theories, as well as to a wide array of racist and misogynistic content.

In spite of persistent calls to ban the_donald, the subreddit has survived, though the_donald was placed under quarantine in June 2019. The quarantine prevents the subreddit from appearing in search results and requires users with a verified email address to opt in to view content.

During her time at Reddit, Pao banned five subreddits for fostering off-site harassment. She was replaced by Huffman after she resigned from the company in July 2015, following complaints from critics who accused her of censorship. Huffman also has banned several abusive subreddits in his time at the company's helm, but like other tech CEOs, he's struggled to strike a balance between moderating harmful content on the platform and maintaining it as a forum for free speech.

Watch this: Ellen Pao is moving on and hoping to set the record straight

CNET's Andrew Morse contributed to this story.