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.
Wow. The vitriol directed at Adria Richards by the angry dudes of Reddit was so extreme it even had Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian feeling a bit embarrassed by the monster he helped to create. In a blog post earlier this week, Ohanian chided the
(otherwise reasonable-seeming) people I saw who were comfortable and self-righteous in calling a woman a bitch/cunt/etc from their Twitter, Hacker News, or, yes, reddit account. …
The comments (and support for them) I’ve seen over the past few days have really disappointed me … This isn’t “political correctness,” this is you having the courage to use your words to create an environment that promotes an open exchange of ideas — not alienate people and certainly not terrorize them.
He reminded the “not-poor straight white men” who dominate the tech world that many of them were once the victims of bullies themselves.
Growing up, we typically weren’t picked first for sports, but were first on the Quake II server. Few people really understood our peculiar hobbies or how amazing it was to see “Hello, world” for the first time. Plenty of us got used to being ignored. Many of us were bullied. But what did we learn from it — empathy or hate?
We need to know the answer, because suddenly we are the cool kids. They’re making movies about us. We’re “rock stars.” Holy shit, the rest of the world is finally realizing how awesome we are. The geek has inherited the earth. And now that we’re the powerful ones, we need to remember: with great power comes great responsibility. It’s irresponsible to continue to act as though we are victims.
Now, there are more than a few problems with Ohanian’s plea for tolerance, up to and including all that self-aggrandizing crap at the end. On Buzzfeed, John Herrman describes Ohanian’s post as a “strategic response to a real problem.” As Herrman notes, the blog post
distances Ohanian from the site he helped create. Here, he is a commentator, not a leader. It’s a baldly political move: By identifying as a geek and then criticizing geek culture, he joins an ongoing conversation about tolerance in tech; but by minimizing Reddit’s role in driving the backlash against Adria Richards (its /r/mensrights community is raising money for the “vicims” of Richards), and characterizing the site’s actions as a reflection of a larger problem rather than a possible cause, Ohanian exonerates himself.
Technically, it was the Red Pill subreddit that started that laughable Feminist Victims Fund, but it’s certainly the case that Men’s Rights Redditors have been some of the loudest Adria Richards haters on the Internet.
Despite Herrman’s criticism, which I think is generally on the mark, Ohanian’s post is still quite striking. Apparently one of the architects of Reddit is beginning not only to realize but to publicly acknowledge just how toxic the culture on Reddit can be.
The big question now is whether or not the powers-that-be at Reddit will do anything about it.