With Silicon Valley’s favorite whipping girl, Ellen Pao, driven from the top job at Reddit, the folks at the website’s “Chairman Pao” subreddit forum haven’t seemed to know what to do this week with their glorious victory.
“What will come of this sub now that Pao is out?” someone named StAnkyBeer fretted.
“Even the supreme leader cannot evade divine justice!” a fellow Pao hater persisted.
Someone posted a YouTube video of that Nah-nah-nah-nah, hey-hey-hey, goodbye song. Someone else drew the group’s attention to a new entry in the Silicon Valley dictionary website, in which Pao’s surname had been turned into a verb meaning “to have to step down from an executive board at the complaint of the product’s core user base,” ha, ha.
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But the joy felt forced. “Not sure this is a victory for anyone,” a commenter named mrcodewizard posted. “What do we do now?” another wondered.
Apparently the thrill of hounding a woman out of an executive suite is fleeting. Especially when maybe larger issues are at stake.
I don’t know whether running one of the nation’s most popular websites is Ellen Pao’s strong suit, and I thought her failed gender discrimination lawsuit against Kleiner Perkins made everyone involved, including her, look bad.
But her post-Kleiner job at Reddit was impossible even before her resignation last week.
Launched 10 years ago by a couple of guys in their 20s, Reddit is now a collection of about 9,000 communities run by about 20,000 volunteers and about 70 paid employees, more and more of whom seem to be quitting. Its founders are still in the picture and, I’m sorry, but the phrase “mature beyond their years” doesn’t seem to describe them.
A motley crew of mostly grown-up investors – Conde Nast’s parent, Advance Publications, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Marc Andreeson and Sam Altman, recording artist Snoop Dogg – now seems to be holding the cards, with one of the founders, Steve Huffman, in Pao’s old job.
They want to make money from Reddit’s 5 million active and registered users. And why not? Its “Ask Me Anything” feature is so popular that President Barack Obama sat for a session. Academics and scientists see it as the new UseNet, and it’s unrivaled in its selection of funny cat GIFs.
But Reddit’s demographics limit its obvious business plan, which is ad sales. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center found that only about 6 percent of online adults are Reddit users, and the biggest chunk of them are guys under 30.
So it’s adolescent. And its fringes use free speech to rationalize a venomous mean streak.
One racist subreddit is nothing but videos of black men being beaten bloody by white men. Another, filled with misogyny, is entitled “Slut Justice.” Others – more than you’d expect – disparage Muslims, Jews, homosexuals, feminism, social justice.
How you attract advertisers with that kind of garbage under your masthead, I couldn’t tell you. Apparently Pao couldn’t figure it out either.
But when she tried to ban a handful of the worst subreddits – in which overweight people were photographed and then shamed under the title Fat People Hate, for instance – she incurred the wrath of the site’s free speech purists.
And then when one of the founders eventually fired a popular employee who ran interference for the site’s volunteer workforce, the mob blamed her. Only belatedly did a former Reddit executive go onto the site this week to say that the firing wasn’t Pao’s fault.
Since then, the founder in charge, Huffman, has indicated he’d like to do something about all that unprofitable hating. On Tuesday, he announced that he and co-founder Alexis Ohanian are developing a “new content policy” and “tools” to enforce it. Good luck, guys. Over at Chairman Pao, the prospects don’t look great.
“/r/stevehuffmansucks/” someone named PlopCake commented.
“Sigh,” arealbigboss chimed in. “Everyone get your pitchforks ready to go!”