Ellen Pao, the lawyer-turned-entrepreneur who recently lost a closely-watched discrimination suit against her former employers, now faces new challenges, this time from the same user base that she’s supposed to be shepherding towards a new digital era of inclusiveness.
Pao was made interim CEO of Reddit, a bookmarking site in which anonymous users post links and commentary that the userbase can vote on (more votes yields more visibility on the site), in November 2014, replacing Yishan Wong. Since then, she’s overseen a number of changes meant to make both the site and the company more welcoming, and as a result, has faced the wrath of Reddit users unhappy with her moves.
Pao made news in April by announcing that Reddit was banning salary negotiations, a move meant to equalize the salary playing field between men and women. Studies have shown that negotiating tends to hurt women more than men, even when the women are successful in the negotiations.
Pao has been a controversial figure since being installed as interim CEO.
"Thank christ (sic). Now can Reddit get rid of her,” said one highly-upvoted comment on a thread about Pao losing her discrimination suit.
Reddit itself has garnered some reputation for being a hub of illicit content. In August 2014 nude photos of multiple celebrities were posted on the site after they were hacked from Apple’s iCloud service. The subreddit that hosted the photos was removed soon after by Wong.
In May the site’s administrators made a push to curb harassment on the site, citing a survey that showed most Reddit users wouldn’t recommend the site to friends due to “hate and offensive content."
“We are changing our practices to prohibit attacks and harassment of individuals through reddit with the goal of preventing them,” said a blog post outlining the changes to the site’s policies.
“[The changes are] specifically designed to prevent attacks against people, not ideas,” the blog post said.
In June, Reddit made good on its word, removing a number of subreddits including one that targeted the overweight. While most of the subreddits removed had small subscriber bases, r/fatpeoplehate had over 150,000 subscribers.
In what could only be described as classic Reddit fashion, several anti-Pao subreddits have sprouted up in reaction to the changes made under Pao’s watch.
Some of the subreddits, such as r/PaoYongYang have distinctly racial overtones. Others, the names of which can’t be printed here, have more aggressive language. The subreddit r/PaoMustResign has a change.org petition with over 10,000 supporters seeking to remove Pao as Reddit’s CEO.
Reddit has so far stuck to its guns over the row.
"We created these anti-harassment policies because our ultimate goal is to encourage authentic conversations and idea - sharing on an open platform with many voices participating. The Internet is an evolving medium and presents a number of challenges at scale, and we're learning and hopefully improving our place in it. We knew there would be a small but vocal minority opposed to it, but we believed it was the right thing to do,” Reddit said in a statement to NBC News.
Asked if the site had any action planned for the anti-Pao subreddits, a company spokesperson emailed, "Reddit has not removed any content related to its company or its CEO. The only content that would ever be removed would be if it explicitly violated the site's rules."