Controversial CEO Ellen Pao leaves Reddit and co-founder Steve Huffman steps up


Reddit announced Friday that Ellen Pao is stepping down from her post as CEO as co-founder Steve Huffman returns to run the sprawling online community.

In a post on Reddit, Y-Combinator executive Sam Altman thanked Pao because she “brought focus to chaos.”

The move comes after a chaotic week in which a major chunk of the site shut down in protest of the firing of communications director Victoria Taylor and a petition calling for Pao’s resignation gathered more than 200,000 signatures.

Co-founder Alexis Ohanian will also return to the company in the role of “co-founder,” according to an announcement that Altman posted to the site. Pao is set to stay on as an advisor through the end of 2015.

In her own Reddit post later in the afternoon, Pao claimed she left because she didn’t believe she could meet the board’s six-month user growth goal while maintaining Reddit’s “core principles.”

She described at length how the vitriol that the site’s users piled on her was overwhelming at times but thanked those who reached out with positive support.

“In my eight months as reddit’s CEO, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly on reddit,” Pao wrote. “The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity.”

In my eight months as reddit’s CEO, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly on reddit. The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity.

Altman suggested that Huffman would push Reddit onto more smartphones. “I’m particularly happy that Steve is so passionate about mobile. I’m very excited to use reddit more on my phone,” he wrote.

Altman also spent the last few paragraphs addressing the widespread misogyny that often greeted Pao’s posts on the site.

“As a closing note, it was sickening to see some of the things redditors wrote about Ellen,” Altman wrote. “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. If the reddit community cannot learn to balance authenticity and compassion, it may be a great website but it will never be a truly great community.”

“Disagreements are fine. Death threats are not, are not covered under free speech, and will continue to get offending users banned,” Altman added.

In an interview with Re/Code‘s Kara Swisher on Friday, Pao reiterated that the decision was her own.

Huffman and Altman opted to field questions in the thread under the announcement, and Pao also responded to user comments.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Huffman wrote. “Fortunately, I’ve got five years of ideas stacked up, and I’m looking forward to getting to work.”

The administration has rankled many of its users over the past few months as Pao worked to reign in the wild west ethos of the so-called “front page of the Internet” that sometimes tended towards hate speech. Last month, Pao updated the site’s harassment policy and shut down five popular sub-communities, inciting blowback from users who claimed the move clashed with the site’s commitment to free speech.

Pao is also embroiled in a high-profile legal battle with venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers that culminated in an unsuccessful month-long trial in March. Pao claims the firm discriminated against her during her tenure there, and is currently working towards an appeal.

Days after last week’s uprising, Pao issued a frank apology to Reddit users: “We screwed up. Not just on July 2, but also over the past several years…The mods and the community have lost trust in me and in us, the administrators of reddit.”

Pao took over Reddit in the wake of previous CEO Yishian Wong’s resignation in the fall of 2014. At the time, the site had become a hub for illegally leaked nude photos of female celebrities, though Wong officially held that he left because of a dispute over where to headquarter the company.

Altman’s full statement is below: