As you may recall, the recent week of hate and abuse directed at Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, which led to her becoming ex-Reddit-CEO Ellen Pao, was triggered by the firing of a popular admin Victoria Taylor, one of the few people on Reddit’s staff who actually seemed to respond to user concerns. The firing was said to be an example of Pao’s supposed “incompetence,” a sign that she didn’t really understand Reddit or Reddit culture — and that she needed to go.
One problem with this line of argument was that there was never ever any proof that Pao was responsible for firing Taylor.
And now it seems pretty clear that she wasn’t. Over the weekend, Reddit co-founder and Chairman of the Board Alexis Ohanian seemed to admit, albeit somewhat obliquely, that he was the person responsible for the firing, commenting on Reddit that
It was my decision to change how we work with AMAs and the transition was my failure and I hope we can keep moving forward from that lesson.
Yishan Wong, who was Reddit’s CEO before Pao took over, put things a bit more bluntly, accusing Ohanian of letting Pao pay the price for his bad decision. In a comment on Reddit, he wrote
Alexis wasn’t some employee reporting to Pao, he was the Executive Chairman of the Board, i.e. Pao’s boss. He had different ideas for AMAs, he didn’t like Victoria’s role, and decided to fire her. Pao wasn’t able to do anything about it. …
Then when the hate-train started up against Pao, Alexis should have been out front and center saying very clearly “Ellen Pao did not make this decision, I did.” Instead, he just sat back and let her take the heat. That’s a stunning lack of leadership and an incredibly shitty thing to do. …
I used to respect Alexis Ohanian. After this, not quite so much.
Ohanian responded with another oblique comment, insisting that he “did report to her.” Admitting that “we didn’t handle it well,” he apologized, but said he couldn’t be any more specific than this.
A real profile in courage.
Wong acknowledged to Ohanian that “in-one-capacity you weren’t her boss,” but added
It wasn’t “we didn’t handle it well” – Ellen actually handled things very well, and with quite a bit of grace given the prejudices arrayed against her and the situation she was put in – you didn’t handle it well. There was tremendous amounts of unnecessary damage done as a result, and we are only able to say that things might turn out ok because Huffman agreed to return and take up the mantle.
Both Ohanian’s seeming admission and Wong’s accusations have caused a little bit of a stir on Reddit.
But there are no subreddits going dark to protest the fact that the person seemingly responsible for Taylor’s firing is still Reddit’s chairman of the board — after letting Pao take the hit for what seems to have been his mistake.
There is no Change.org petition with hundreds of thousands of votes calling for Ohanian to step down. There are no nasty “Chairman Ohanian” graphics going viral on Twitter. There’s no mass movement forming to apologize to Pao for wrongly targeting her.
Could it be that perhaps Taylor’s firing wasn’t the real reason so many were angry at Pao?
Could it be that her haters actually hated her not because of the firing but because she was taking small steps to curb the worst excesses of Reddit’s poisonous culture? That she was a woman standing up to some of the angry boys of Reddit?
I’m not even sure why I bother to ask these questions, as the answer is so blindingly obvious.