Former Reddit CEO: Ellen Pao Was Actually Trying to Save You All

Former Reddit CEO: Ellen Pao Was Actually Trying to Save You All
Max Chang
By Max Chang
July 15, 2015
Former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong wasn’t done revealing the burning truths behind the recent chaos at Reddit. His latest revelation? Like Severus Snape was to Harry Potter and Itachi Uchiha was to Naruto, Ellen Pao was always on the side of free speech, even for the nastier Redditors, but was still painted as the bad guy up until her resignation.
Wong painted a different portrait of Pao, one far different than what the Reddit community led itself to believe despite the infinite wisdom of the internet. Wong described Pao as “Silicon Valley’s #1 Feminist Hero,” how she “probably would have tolerated your existence so long as you didn’t cause any problems,” and how she tried to uphold free speech as much as possible by “allowing the bad parts to exist but keeping them out of the spotlight.” In the end, Reddit couldn’t help itself, as Wong writes, “We tried to let you govern yourselves and you failed, so now The Man is going to set some Rules.“
Here’s Wong’s comment in full:
How’s everyone doing? This is AWESOME!
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 interview with Forbes[1]debacle, I wrote to interview with Forbes[2] for advice. I had met him shortly after I had taken the job, and found him to be a great guy. Back in the day when reddit was small, the areas he oversaw were engineering, product, and the business aspects – those are the same things I tend to focus on in a company (each CEO has certain areas of natural focus, and hires others to oversee the rest). As a result, we were able to connect really well and have a lot of great conversations – talking to him was really valuable.
Well, when things were heating around the interview with Forbes[3]thing and people were calling for its banning, I wrote to him to ask 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, interview with Forbes[4] – I hope you enjoy voat!
The free speech policy was something I formalized because it seemed like the wiser course at the time. It’s worth stating that in that era, we were talking about whether it was ok for people to post creepy pictures of women taken legally in public. That’s shitty, but it’s a far cry from the extremes of hate that some parts of the site host today. It seemed that allowing creepers to post (anonymized) pictures of women taken in public, in a relatively small subreddit that never showed up on the front page, was a small price to pay for making it clear that we were a place welcoming of all opinions and discourse.
Having made that decision – much of reddit’s current condition is on me. I didn’t anticipate what (some) redditors would decide to do with freedom. reddit has become a lot bigger – yes, a lot better – AND a lot worse. I have to take responsibility.
But… the most delicious part of this is that on at least two separate occasions, the board pressed interview with Forbes[5] 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. As we can see from interview with Forbes[6] , she knows perfectly well how to fit in with the reddit community and is a normal, funny person – just like in real life – she simply didn’t sit on reddit all day because she was busy with her day job.
Ellen was more or less inclined to continue upholding my free-speech policies. interview with Forbes[7] 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 interview with Forbes[8] 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.”
Yesterday, Reddit co-founder and current CEO Steve Huffman released a statement on the direction Reddit will be moving towards, which is not “to be a bastion of free speech,” despite Alexis Ohanian’s occasional comments that it is.
In a 2012 interview with Forbes, when Ohanian was asked what he thought the founding fathers of the United States would say about Reddit, he literally called it a bastion of free speech:
“A bastion of free speech on the World Wide Web? I bet they would like it.”
h/t: Gawker
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