online harassment

Ellen Pao: ‘The Trolls Are Winning’

Ellen Pao.
Ellen Pao. Photo: Robert Galbraith/Reuters/Corbis

Ellen Pao, Reddit’s interim CEO since 2013, resigned last week. Her announcement came in the wake of months of harassment from the site’s members, as well as a petition with over 200,000 signatures calling for her resignation. In a post on the site, Pao clarified her reasons for leaving: “Ultimately, the board asked me to demonstrate higher user growth in the next six months than I believe I can deliver while maintaining reddit’s core principles,” she wrote.

Writing today in the Washington Post, Pao opens up about the abuse she’s experienced over the past months as she’s attempted to crack down on harassers on the site. “I have just endured one of the largest trolling attacks in history,” she begins. “Balancing free expression and 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 winning.”

According to Pao, after Reddit announced policy changes to remove revenge porn and ban certain sections of the site that drew repeat harassers, she and her colleagues were threatened with doxing and even death. “I, along with several of my colleagues, was threatened 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 acknowledges that online harassment isn’t easy to solve. “A large portion of the internet audience enjoys edgy content and the behavior of the more extreme users,” she notes, adding: “No one has figured out the best place to draw the line between bad and ugly — or whether that line can support a viable business model.”

Ultimately, Pao writes, it’s up to individuals to call out abuse when they see it. She ends her piece with gratitude for the people who sent her messages of support. “In the battle for the internet, the power of humanity to overcome hate gives me hope,” she wrote. “I’m rooting for the humans over the trolls. I know we can win.”

Ellen Pao: ‘The Trolls Are Winning’