Perhaps no one had quite the 2015 that former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao had. After taking over as its interim chief executive officer, Reddit users revolted over a myriad of things: namely, a contentious discrimination lawsuit with VC firm and former employer Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, as well as a series of decisions to curb hate speech and revenge porn littered in pockets of Reddit’s community.
She held fast amid the backlash, but she lost the case and resigned from Reddit. Despite these events, Pao remains an active voice in Silicon Valley diversity as well as preventing harmful speech and trolling online.
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Pao spoke of the challenges in dealing with massive trolling with Lindy West for the Guardian. West is also no stranger to feminism-hating trolls, speaking regularly on the issue and even describing in detail for radio show ‘This American Life’ a situation where a troll posed as her dead father on Twitter to harass her.
West asked Pao whether she believes trolls believe that she is human being, and she responded candidly:
I have no idea. I don’t understand them! It’s just not something that I would ever do. Why would you want to hurt a stranger? It makes no sense to me. So I just don’t know. It’s just a baffling part of the human psyche that I don’t feel competent in trying to unravel. And, to be honest, I just don’t care to spend the time doing that. There’s no answer.
She also mentioned how difficult it is to make curbing harassment a priority after a platform has become large — an issue seen firsthand with Reddit during and after her departure, as her successor, Reddit cofounder Steve Huffman, experience backlash as the company decided to “quarantine” hateful subreddits. She emphasized that moderation needs to be in place from Day 1:
[I]f you allow some bad behaviour because you don’t have the resources, if you don’t prioritise it, it makes it hard to go back because the bad behaviour scales as your system and your community scale. You need 10 times as many people and it has become 10 times more sophisticated, and it’s groups of people working to troll your whole system.
Since laying low after the resignation and an op-ed in Re/code indicating that she wouldn’t continue to pursue an appeal in her case against KPCB, Pao mentioned to West that she might do something new. Possibly a startup.
“I haven’t really thought about it that much, but I do want to get back to doing stuff and building things and making a difference that way,” she said.