If you’ve been anywhere on the Internet in the past day or two, you’ll almost certainly have heard about Ellen Pao, the now-former Interim CEO of Reddit who stepped down from her position amidst a massive outcry from a chunk of Reddit’s users. Pao had been surrounded by controversy from the day she was put into the media spotlight and has landed there once again with her resignation. While the details of these events will play into what I want to look at today, we’re going to be focusing on what effect the change will actually have on Reddit, if any.
Regardless of whether she was behind ideas like banning subreddits deemed “harassing” or “offensive,” firing Victoria Taylor, a very popular and influential employee, or the deletion of content posted relating to husband or her then-ongoing battle against Kleiner-Perkins, there are still other employees, site administrators, and moderators who agreed with these decisions, or were at least complacent in their execution. This leads to a depressing, if not realistic conclusion that despite Pao stepping down, Reddit may still be on a very rocky road.
Pao’s reign was a short but storied one. Coming in hot off of a heavily-scrutinized gender discrimination case against her former employers, and with little mention of her husband’s shady past, the spotlight was on her from day one. The actions she supported and the direction she intended to take Reddit in were indicative of a somewhat frightening truth behind the company: Ellen Pao most likely isn’t even the problem.
Reddit’s appeal comes primarily from being able to share and discuss content with other users who are interested in the same type of material. Videos, pictures, news articles, and more are all tailored to users based on what subreddits they subscribe to. Communities are built around content and countless eyes can see whatever it is that someone might feel like showing to other people. The popularity of this type of easy-access entertainment, education, and expression is part of why it’s often called the Front Page of The Internet. Almost inevitably, someone found a way to mess that up.
There are obvious boundaries that need to be set. Child pornography, blackmail, and other violations of US law can easily be spread over such an expansive system. And as far as anyone was concerned, that was addressed and taken care of in Reddit’s rules by active moderation. It’s common sense that there are going to be subreddits that offend or upset other users, and that should be perfectly fine because of how Reddit’s subscription-based content delivery works. If you don’t want to see a subreddit that you find hurtful, offensive, demeaning, or whatever, then there’s absolutely nothing forcing you to do so. You can choose not to subscribe to that subreddit, and if it’s popular enough that you’re still seeing it on /r/all, then the Reddit Enhancement Suite contains a filtering tool so you never have to see it again. No problem, right? Nope. Big problem.
Unrivaled backlash against Reddit’s administrators, and more specifically Pao, came with their decision to ban several subreddits containing content that was deemed “harassing.” This was done without any type of warning or notification beforehand. The decision raised even more controversy when it was discovered that /r/shitredditsays, a mob-like subreddit often found responsible for “brigading”(swarming a submission or comment with downvotes after it’s linked on the subreddit) wouldn’t be banned.
Too many people have glossed over the fact that administrators kn0thing and 5days also signed on to ban subreddits like /r/fatpeoplehate, meaning It was a team effort, and that’s the bottom line. What I’m trying to say is that Ellen Pao isn’t the real problem, she’s only a symptom. Yes, she has a terrible track record. Yes, she’s at the top of the company. That doesn’t mean that Reddit is magically fixed now that she’s gone. At the end of the day, the same issues will still be present as long as people who share her sentiment of putting feelings in front of reason are holding the reins. All that Pao stepping down took care of is a PR hurdle. Unless real change is made within the company and the mindset of its administration shifts away from being a “safe space” and back towards being a mecca of content sharing and communication, Pao may as well still be CEO.
What do you think? Is Reddit due for a comeback, or is it set for the same old song and dance?