Reddit’s Ellen Pao is stepping down as interim CEO of the social messaging board and will be replaced immediately by Steve Huffman, the site’s cofounder and first CEO. Pao will continue advising the board until the end of the year.
Sam Altman, the head of the startup incubator Y Combinator, which funded Reddit, said the decision was made by “mutual agreement.” Before Pao’s arrival, Altman himself had a short stint as CEO for eight days in November after the previous head, Yishan Wong, resigned over a disagreement with the board regarding the company’s relocation.
“We are thankful for Ellen’s many contributions to reddit and the technology industry generally,” Altman wrote on Reddit today. “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.”
Users have been calling for Pao to resign ever since she fired a popular moderator on July 2. A Change.org petition asking her to step down garnered more than 213,000 signatures as of Friday. “She made some mistakes, for sure, but I think she did remarkably well in a very tough situation,” said Altman. “And Steve is happy to be taking the baton for her here.”
But the backlash against Pao started even before this controversy. Under Pao, a longtime Silicon Valley executive who this year lost her high-profile gender-discrimination case against the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Reddit has taken a stronger stance against harassment, a move that irked the site’s free-speech advocates. The company updated its policies in May to give moderators the ability to remove flagrant content and ban offenders. Vocal members of the community were particularly furious when Reddit removed five forums, including one called Fat People Hate, in June.
“Disagreements are fine. Death threats are not, are not covered under free speech, and will continue to get offending users banned,” Altman said about the threats Pao received. “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.”