Pao: The Perfect Patsy

Redditors rejoiced last Friday when it was announced that interim CEO Ellen Pao would be stepping down as leader of the popular social website, effective immediately.

But perhaps those hoots and hollers of celebration were a bit premature.

Several Internet users rallied against Pao after she implemented jarring changes to the site by banning certain distasteful subreddits and allegedly firing beloved admin Victoria Taylor. Now, nearly a week after Pao resigned, there’s still no sign of a policy reversal.

In fact, in an announcement Tuesday, new Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said a content policy update would be coming to Reddit, hinting at the banning of even more subs. He claimed that “neither Alexis [Ohanian, Reddit co-founder] nor I created Reddit to be a bastion of free speech, but rather as a place where open and honest discussion can happen.”

That’s funny, because Ohanian referred to Reddit specifically as “a bastion of free speech” in a 2012 Forbes interview. It’s even funnier because the official Reddit rules call the site a “free speech place.”

This is beside the fact that former CEO Yishan Wong outright accused Ohanian, not Pao, of being the one who fired Taylor. Wong claims that Pao defended Reddit’s free speech status before eventually caving to the board’s pressure and censoring the site.

“Neither Alexis nor I created Reddit to be a bastion of free speech, but rather as a place where open and honest discussion can happen.” —Steve Huffman, Reddit CEO

This is huge. Reddit employees can contradict themselves, hire and fire whomever they want, and delete content, users, or even entire subreddits they deem “problematic.” What’s devious here is the possibility that Ellen Pao was the sacrificial lamb for policy changes other higher-ups wanted.

Pao made for a perfect scapegoat. She was an interim CEO, which means she was never meant to hold the position permanently. Plus, her status as an Asian female meant Pao’s supporters could silence critics by blanketing them all as misogynists and racists.

It’s entirely possible Reddit employees have wanted these changes for a while but knew implementing them would be dangerous, so they let Pao take the fall, had her step down to fall into the user base’s good graces once more, and then kept Pao’s changes regardless. The fact that Huffman is considering a content policy update instead of a content policy reversal would suggest this.

But who knows? Huffman’s hosting an AMA Thursday to present his thoughts to the community and solicit users’ feedback. Maybe enough will speak up in favor of reversing Pao’s policies, and things will go back to how they were.

Somehow, though, I doubt that very much. And if I’m right, Pao isn’t the real enemy here—at least, she’s not the only one.

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