Ellen Pao was the interim CEO of Reddit, until a wave of backlash from users—and outright harassment—forced her to resign her position. But now she's speaking out about how we have to take action to prevent sexist trolls from taking over the Internet as we know it.
"I have just endured one of the largest trolling attacks in history," she writes in a Washington Post op-ed. The harassment began when she took major steps to stop offensive content on the site, whether it was revenge porn or sections of the site dedicated to harassing users, like a subreddit called FatPeopleHate. It got even worse when a popular employee, Victoria Taylor, was fired.
Those decisions didn't go over well with some users, who tried to threaten her into submission. "I, along with several colleagues, was targeted with harassing messages, attempts to post my private information online and death threats," she writes. "These were attempts to demean, shame and scare us into silence."
Pao, who left her position as interim CEO after eight months at the job, says the cyberbullying and online harassment she endured is a mark of how the Internet is evolving negatively: "Balancing free expression with privacy and the protection of
participants has always been a challenge for open-content platforms on
the Internet. But that balancing act is getting harder. The trolls are
But she's not ready to back down yet. She says that as the trolling got worse, more and more users sent her "heartfelt" and positive messages, some telling her to "stay safe." She says that there are still nice people on the Internet: they just need to speak up. "I'm rooting for the humans over the trolls," she writes. "I know we can win." She's used to fighting uphill battles, after all. Pao sued her former employer, Kleiner Perkins, for gender discrimination; even though she lost, she spoke up for many more women who have been in her position.
As for Reddit, Pao's departure doesn't mean the site isn't fighting trolls anymore. New CEO Steve Huffman announced Thursday that Reddit may introduce a plan to section off offensive content into an area that requires a login, wouldn't show up in search results, and wouldn't generate any money for the site.