Reddit’s CEO, Ellen Pao, has resigned following protest by users over the recent dismissal of a popular administrator and the introduction of changes to its harassment policy. An online petition calling for Pao’s resignation received 213,000 signatures.
Pao said Friday that it was a “mutual decision” and that she had “not” been fired, according to the website Re/Code. Reddit board member Sam Altman posted a statement on the site explaining Pao’s departure and is doing an ‘Ask Me Anything’ chat with the Reddit community about the resignation.
“Ellen Pao resigned from Reddit today by mutual agreement. I’m delighted to announce that Steve Huffman, founder and the original Reddit CEO, is returning as CEO,” said Sam Altman.
“We are thankful for Ellen’s many contributions to Reddit and the technology industry generally. She brought focus to chaos, recruited a world-class team of executives, and drove growth. She brought a face to Reddit that changed perceptions, and is a pioneer for women in the tech industry. She will remain as an advisor to the board through the end of 2015. I look forward to seeing the great things she does beyond that.”
Pao took over the CEO job in November 2014, but has been under scrutiny by the social networking community during her tenure.
Last week, Reddit moderators shut down 300 discussion pages on the site in protest over Pao’s and management’s handling of the dismissal of popular moderator Victoria Taylor, a top administrator of Reddit’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA) chats. Taylor was let go for unspecified reasons, but the protest led Pao to issue an apology over the dismissal.
“We screwed up. Not just on July 2, but also over the past several years,” Pao said in a Reddit post. “We haven’t communicated well, and we have surprised moderators and the community with big changes.”
Taylor was the lead employee in moderating AMA chats with major figures, like politicians or celebrities, who participate in the question-and-answer sessions with users.
Some Reddit users speculated that her dismissal was tied to a recent AMA with Rev. Jesse Jackson that went awry, as users lofted controversial questions and racially-based charges at the longtime civil rights activist.
In May, under Pao’s direction, the company also introduced changes to its harassment policy and banned five subreddit communities that were devoted to hating or criticizing fat people, transgender people and other groups. Online users who have a strong tradition of free speech interpreted the ban as an attack on users’ free speech, and a sign that the community was going to start banning content that it found objectionable. Pao apologized on NPR for not alerting moderators of the Reddit communities about the transition sooner.
Altman said in the notice about Pao’s resignation that the company will do more to communicate with moderators and its more than 8,300 active communities. He also said it would deliver clarity on the content policy of Reddit in order to preserve the integrity of the site, but also “maintain reddit as a place where the most open and honest conversations with the entire world can happen.”
A former venture capitalist, Pao has been in the spotlight before, accusing the prominent Silicon Valley firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers of gender discrimination when she was not promoted to a general or senior partner, and then was subsequently terminated. A jury in March found gender was not the motivating reason for her termination or lack of promotion.