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Reddit chief Ellen Pao resigns over user revolt, growth targets

Ellen Pao

Ellen Pao

Ellen Pao, who headed one of the world’s most trafficked websites Reddit, has resigned due to simmering user unrest and a growth-related disagreement with the company’s board.

Pao, who has been the online content sharing and social networking website’s acting CEO since last November, has been replaced by Steve Huffman, who had co-founded Reddit in 2005.

Announcing her resignation on Reddit, Pao said she could not see a way to increase users as fast as the board wanted while still adhering to the social-news platforms’ core principles.

Pao’s tenure as acting CEO was a rocky one. She has been battling to quell a revolt by Reddit’s volunteer- moderators who recently shut down around 300 discussion sections after the sudden exit of the company’s director of talent, Victoria Taylor.

Under Pao, the site tried to ban sexually explicit images, remove a handful of discussion sections and prohibite harassment of individuals. Reddit users had attacked Pao’s plans for the site and a recent petition calling for her sacking made unkind reference to the failed sex discrimination lawsuit she had filed against previous employer Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

In an emotionally charged post on Reddit, Pao said: “I just want to remind everyone that I am just another human; I have a family, and I have feelings. Everyone attacked on Reddit is just another person like you and me.”

“When people make something up to attack me or someone else, it spreads, and we eventually will see it. And we will feel bad, not just about what was said. Also because it undercuts the authenticity of Reddit and shakes our faith in humanity,” she added.

Reddit has over 40,000 subscribers in India. The Reddit India sub-forum was started seven years ago, by a US-based user but it is only over the past two years that the forum became more active. Subscriber numbers began to soar especially in the run-up to last year’s national election.

Discussion on Reddit are generally frank because of the high degree of anonymity.

The anonymity makes the chat site, made of up mainly male users, popular and anarchic.

Reddit board member Sam Altman termed the whole incident around Pao’s exit as ‘sickening’. “The reduction in compassion that happens when we’re all behind computer screens is not good for the world. People are still people even if there is Internet between you,” he added.

Altman, who is also an angel investor, recently led a $50 million investment in Reddit which valued the company at $500 million. Reddit, which counts more than 160 million monthly users, has been seeking more mainstream acceptance and a route to profitability since raising the latest round of capital.

Pao had joined Reddit in April 2013. She became its acting chief executive in November, after incumbent CEO Yishan Wong put in his papers.

This year, Reddit recorded user growth by 70 per cent, while mobile usage rose to 47 per cent compared to 29 per cent last year.

The new CEO Huffman had co-founded Reddit in in 2005 with his University of Virginia roommate Alexis Ohanian. Conde Nast acquired Reddit the following year, and both Huffman and Ohanian left the company in October 2009.

Ohanian returned as Reddit’s executive chairman last year.

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