Some users of the online news and link sharing site Reddit went haywire over the company's recent decision to ban a handful of communities, or subreddits, on the site for harassing behavior. So naturally, some redditors rebelled by creating a subreddit now flooded with posts harassing current interim chief executive Ellen Pao.
The subreddit, r/paomustresign, links to an online petition asking for Pao to step down from her job at reddit. But many posts in the section that have received thousands of "upvotes" appear to be clear harassment: Memes comparing her to feces, calling her vile names, photoshopping her face onto obese bodies and trying to manipulate Google image search results so that pictures of Hitler or the Islamic State flag show up when you look up her name.
These posts appear to fit within the scope of behavior prohibited by a policy adopted by Reddit last month, which says:
Systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person (1) conclude that reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation, or (2) fear for their safety or the safety of those around them.
The Web site did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the subreddit. And the issue is murky because of Pao's status as a public, and controversial, figure. What's the line between harassment and purposefully offensive digital protest?
But the site's own history is one of the reasons the backlash was so extreme. It had a long history of largely allowing users do what they wanted as long as it didn't break the law.
“We will not ban questionable subreddits,” Reddit’s then-chief executive Yishan Wong wrote in a blog post in the midst of a controversy over a subreddit dedicated to sharing stolen celebrity nudes last year. “You choose what to post. You choose what to read. You choose what kind of subreddit to create and what kind of rules you will enforce. We will try not to interfere — not because we don’t care, but because we care that you make your choices between right and wrong.”
(The subreddit was banned shortly after the blog was posted, not because its content was offensive, the site operators said, but because the site couldn't keep up with policing the flood of takedowns needed related to underage subjects and copyright violations.)
Some users upset about the changes obviously blame Pao, who was the plaintiff in an unsuccessful gender discrimination lawsuit earlier this year, for the changes at the site in recent months. But the way they're expressing their blame may just prove the site's point.