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A Moment of Fantasy

Authoritarian oligarch and Imperious Leader of Reddit, Ellen Pao, was given the heave-ho this week in a “mutual decision” to be replaced by someone who knows things about Reddit’s basic functionality, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman.

Writers for the Ministry of Truth aren’t the only people in the world who can write a click-bait trash headline or opening paragraph for a discussion of an incompetent CEO’s resignation.

Now We Can Be Real

Ellen Pao is out as CEO of Reddit for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons are the result of her catastrophic lack of leadership ability. Some of those reasons are the result of being dealt a bad hand from her predecessors. Here’s an example of the latter.

In October 2014, then Reddit CEO Yishan Wong committed one of the classic blunders, which are, in order:

  1. Never fight a land war in Asia.
  2. Never go in against a Sicillian when death is on the line.
  3. Never move your tech company to San Francisco when cheaper and employee friendly alternatives like Dallas-Fort Worth exist.

Closing down the New York City office probably saved Reddit a small amount of money in the short term. However, consolidating Reddit’s business in the 4th most expensive city in America is an expensive proposition. Reddit committed to providing relocation packages for those who could move and severance for those who couldn’t, which is a not insignificant cost; however, more valuable was any experience with the platform and rapport with the community long standing Reddit employees had that was lost because employees couldn’t, or wouldn’t, move.

The timing of the move is curious, coming as it did on the heels of a $50 million dollar investment from venture capitalists. It does seem clear, based on information we know now about demands by the board for user growth on Reddit, the move was done to make it easier for Reddit executives to beg for money from venture capitalists and corporate sponsors with the goal of turning Reddit into YACMW (Yet Another Corporate Media Website).

There’s another part of the San Francisco move story that highlights a long-standing problem between Reddit executives and employees. Wong stated the following in a Quora post:

And despite the emails, messaging, IRC, phone calls, Skype, online project management tools, and even liberal in-person travel policies – we just couldn’t do as well as we all knew we should be doing.  There were too many times when we just needed to be able to walk over and tap someone on the shoulder and discuss a complex issue in-depth, right away.

So, Reddit’s culture before Ellen Pao became CEO was one of completely ineffective communication. So, when Pao admitted to not communicating well in a post on July 7, 2015, her failure was not one of lack of communication. Pao’s failure was one of leadership in having no effect changing Reddit’s communication culture in the eight months from November 2014 to July 2015.

An Ineffective Leader

A direct example of Pao’s ineffectiveness as a leader comes in the form of the events surrounding the firing of Victoria Taylor and subsequent revolt of subreddit moderators and Reddit users across the site.

Taylor was one of the best employees at Reddit. She worked as Director of Talent, as well as a liaison for the Ask Me Anything subreddit. On top of that, she was an accessible and vocal resource for moderators of the site. If there’s anyone whose hard work and apparently consistent outstanding performance should have made them immune to policies like forced moves to SF, it should have been Victoria Taylor.

Pao, and the rest of Reddit executives, conscientiously decided to keep Taylor’s firing a secret to Reddit moderators. Taylor’s firing caused the r/IAmA subreddit to be set to private by its remaining moderators in protest, and as word of Taylor’s abrupt dismissal spread throughout Reddit, well over 100 subreddits had also “gone dark” in protest. It was clear to any observer Pao and Reddit executives had lost control of their website.

In an attempt to regain some amount of control, Pao made a post apologizing for “screwing up” not just on the day of Taylor’s dismissal, but over the last several years, only the last eight months of which Pao is directly responsible for. The post is massively short on specifics of where Pao thought Reddit executives had screwed up, but she did identify Tools, Communication, and Search functionality as focus areas going forward.

While Reddit mods were in open revolt against Pao’s mismanagement of Taylor’s dismissal, a petition on change.org asking for Pao’s removal as CEO of Reddit swelled to over 200,000 signatures. Not only had Reddit moderators given their version of a vote of “No confidence” against Ellen Pao, it was becoming more and more clear the rank-and-file members of Reddit were giving a similar “No confidence” vote.

Perhaps the most damning insight into how ineffective Pao was, and would continue to be, as CEO of Reddit is the statement she made upon announcing her resignation:

Ultimately, the board asked me to demonstrate higher user growth in the next six months than I believe I can deliver while maintaining Reddit’s core principles.

So, to borrow a cliché, the only “tools in the shed” were to retain Reddit’s long held community standard of open communication and attain modest growth, or turn Reddit into Tumblr Jr. by censoring and/or shutting down every subreddit not ideologically compliant with the beliefs of the SF SocJus authoritarian elite? Are there really no coders working for Reddit that could be kicked in the ass to do some, I don’t know, actual coding to provide moderators the tools they need to moderate their subreddits to each subreddit’s standard of conduct? If the quoted statement is an indictment of anything, it is an indictment of how hapless Pao was as a leader.

Populism Is Sexism When We Need it to Be

So populism won, right? The popular backlash against secretive and heavy-handed, pro-censorship administration of a website caused its users to revolt en masse and the weight of popular dissent induced positive change, right?

Nope, Reddit moderators and users are just sexists. It would seem, once one dons the radiant halo of “taking on sexism in Sillicon Valley,” as nearly every report on this story put it, one becomes above reproach.

The bottom line of all this is not every problem Reddit has is Ellen Pao’s fault. She certainly did virtually nothing in her eight-month tenure as interim CEO toward solving a culture of communication problems at Reddit, and the mishandling of Victoria Taylor’s dismissal is most certainly an indictment of ineffective leadership.

Did those two events warrant Ellen Pao’s resignation? It’s not my place to say. I’m not a Reddit board member, nor am I active on the site at all, beyond fishing for interesting topics write commentaries on for TR. The hundreds of subreddit moderators and hundreds of thousands of petition signatories (for the record, I did not sign the petition) seem to think so, and that was enough for Pao and the board to initiate change.


Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.



  • Xavier Mendel

    “Authoritarian oligarch and Imperious Leader of Reddit, Ellen Pao”

    Bit unfair, don’t you think? She’s a bad CEO, not Hitler.

    “Writers for the Ministry of Truth”

    Again, bad articles but they’re not exactly government propaganda.

  • This all just goes to show how disgusting this Social “Justice” clique is. They should be ousted from any position of power they hold and given only the bare minimum of respect for other humans as required by simple common decency.

    Personally, extremism of any sort is bad. Leftist, right-wing, Conservative, “Progressive”, Liberal, Libertarian, etc. etc. etc., doesn’t matter how nice your ideology sounds; if you take it too far(as people like Pao and Sarkeesian have done), your ideology is bad because YOU made it bad.

    On another note, it’s nice to see that TechRaptor seems to be back up to fully operational status again.

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    If Reddit was to have a future, Chairman Pao had to go. I’m honestly shocked that she, um, ‘moved on’. Here’s hoping Reddit keeps on keeping on.

  • Pesty

    Actually, I think the hope is that Reddit changes course to a heading that is much more friendly to its user community. The current fear is that the replacing of Pao is just an empty gesture by the board, and that Reddit really will “keep on keeping on”.

    I’m only a very casual browser of the site, certainly not a self-identified member of the community, but even I don’t feel giddy at the prospect of being internet livestock to be herded toward advertisers. I can scarcely imagine the outrage that the moderators and other supporters of the Reddit community must feel.

  • Pesty

    To be fair, I don’t think Pao herself has recently done anything consistent with the SocJus ideology since her failed discrimination suit against Kleiner Perkins. And that had nothing to do with Reddit.

  • Murk

    Maybe not government propaganda but it certainly reads like propaganda.

    The amount of info they leave out/distort and downright fabricate is truly absurd. Especially in cases where they claim ellen is a champion of women in the valley despite miserably losing her lawsuit for obviously suing for the money.

  • Jesus Zamora

    To be fair, she couldn’t come up with any ideas that didn’t involve turning Reddit into a progressive “safe space” either.

  • StrongStyleFiction

    I personally believe this more due to “corporate culture” as opposed to social justice culture. The point was to maximize reddit’s corporate appeal by sweeping the more unsavory parts either out the door or under the rug. Corporate suits are just as cowardly as SJWs, sometimes more so. It’s a bad mixture. But think the SJW nonsense was more an attempt to put a kind face on typical, corporate soullessness.

  • Jesus Zamora

    True enough. Though if they do try to wipe Reddit clean, good luck to them when people start migrating like geese. Nothing can survive cowardice, especially not social media.

  • Pesty

    Oh yeah, her brief “reign” was just a total shitshow. And if that ridiculous suit she filed is any indication of her character, it won’t be long until she tries something similar again; leaning heavily on the crutch of progressive identity politics to make up the shortfall in talent or merit.

  • JW%

    One could debate the differences in ‘corporate culture’ and ‘social justice culture’. Sweeping the unsavory elements out the door(or under the rug) was a(in my opinion counter productive) move to maximize reddit’s corporate appeal, so we’re in agreement there. However, who were these corporate authors trying to appeal to? Certainly not the established customer base, who revolted against these changes. A new customer base? Perhaps a vocal one who believe in bullying for ‘social justice’? Would make sense.

    So the difference between those two cultures is somewhat a chicken and the egg thing… moot but ultimately pointless. The results were the same.

  • StrongStyleFiction

    It’s easy good press. The media loves sensationalism, SJWs provide it in spades. Corporations love easy good press. It’s a match made in Hell.

  • dick cockerson

    donfurget: Its not sexist its misogynistic

  • Tracker

    “Taylor’s firing caused the r/IAmA subreddit to be set to private by its remaining moderators in protest” – The way the IAmA mods tell it they had to shut down out of necessity since they literally couldn’t function without Victoria, everyone else shut down in protest.

  • Dave The Sandman

    You missed off another bit about moving the staff to SF

    The bit
    where Chairman Pao talks with a sick employee who has had a remission of
    leukemia and as a result is having difficulty fitting into the little
    ‘Lets All Move to SJW La-la Land’ plan, and promises him that his job is
    safe. Then a day or so later she shitcans him because he is (in her
    opinion) too sick to continue with the company. As a bone, probably to
    try to stave off what should be an inevitable court case against the
    company, Chairman Pao throws him 12 months worth of medical insurance
    cover which, lets face it, he f-ing needs.

    She is a sociopathic shyster.