New Reddit CEO Says He Won’t Reverse Pao’s Moves After Her Exit

Ellen Pao
Former Reddit Inc. CEO Ellen Pao. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Reddit Inc.’s new chief executive officer said he’s unlikely to reverse some of the changes that caused a user revolt and led to Ellen Pao’s resignation after eight months on the job.

Steve Huffman, a co-founder of the San Francisco-based online forum, said Saturday in an Ask Me Anything on Reddit that Pao was “not used as a scapegoat” and he planned to stick with some of her most unpopular decisions, such as deleting malicious threads including one called “fatpeoplehate” and firing Victoria Taylor, who coordinated the AskMeAnything question-and-answer sessions. Taylor’s firing on July 2 led to online protests the next day.

The company won’t tolerate forums that promote bullying and threats against other users, and there were valid reasons for Taylor’s dismissal, Huffman said.

“I know she was well-loved by many moderators, and I’m very sorry at how everything played out. It could have been handled much better,” Huffman wrote. “However, she was let go for specific reasons, which I obviously will not share, and we will stand by that decision.”

Reddit said Friday that Pao resigned as interim chief executive officer and was replaced by Huffman, who is chief technology officer at the travel startup Hipmunk Inc. and has had no official role for several years at Reddit.

“First, I’m super excited. Second I am terrified,” Huffman said in an interview.

Online Protest

Pao apologized earlier this week to the Reddit community after the online protest over the firing of Taylor, and she had faced vitriol from Reddit users who called for her firing. Pao previously ignited debate in Silicon Valley with her failed gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The Taylor uproar didn’t spur the management change, which was a “mutual decision over a number of weeks,” Sam Altman, a Reddit board member, said in an interview.

Pao, who will remain an adviser to the board through the end of the year, also called the decision mutual.

“We had different views in the potential growth rate in users for Reddit this year,” she said in an interview. “We couldn’t come to an agreement on that and I decided to step down.”

Users’ Behavior

In a blog post announcing the change, Altman chided Reddit users for their treatment of Pao.

“It was sickening to see some of the things redditors wrote about Ellen,” Altman wrote. “The reduction in compassion that happens when we’re all behind computer screens is not good for the world.”

Huffman was Reddit’s first CEO after he and co-founder Alexis Ohanian developed the online forum as part of the startup incubator Y Combinator. Altman, a Reddit investor and president of Y Combinator, referred to that history on Friday, titling his post about the change “An old team at reddit.”

“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,” Altman wrote. “He has the added bonus of being a founder with 10 years of reddit history in his head.”

Today’s Reddit -- a far cry from the obscure Internet forum that Ohanian and Huffman founded 10 years ago -- is one of the largest sites on the Web, with the company estimating 164 million monthly unique visitors.

Redditors have been celebrating Pao’s resignation, telling Huffman they missed him. They even commended Pao for taking the action they called for, even after enduring their hatred and mocking.

Yet the questions for Huffman have already started. From one Redditor who goes by KonnichiNya: “Is Pao just the sacrificial lamb to appease us?”

In the question-and-answer, Huffman said that was not the case.

“Ellen was not used as a scapegoat,” he wrote. “She stepped up during a time of crisis for Reddit, for which we were thankful. Things didn’t go smoothly, for sure, but I will do my best to guide us forward.”

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