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Ellen Pao resigns as Reddit chief executive

Ellen Pao arrives at San Francisco Superior Court in San Francisco during her gender discrimination trial earlier this year. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
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Ellen Pao has resigned as interim chief executive of Reddit, the popular online message board, following widespread user criticism of the way she was running the company.

Reddit announced the change Friday afternoon in a company post, saying that the resignation was "by mutual agreement." Pao will be replaced by Steve Huffman, Reddit's co-founder and original chief executive.

Pao, who had been at the company only eight months, came under withering criticism for firing a popular employee, Victoria Taylor, the company’s director of talent. Taylor was beloved among Reddit's powerful moderators, who don't work for the company but have complete editorial control over the thousands of niche discussion sections on virtually every topic, including cute animals and depression. Reddit's message boards draw about 160 million active users.

Taylor was also a rare, public female face at Reddit and in tech world. Amid the vitriol directed at Pao, many users pointed out the irony that Pao would have let go a prominent woman at Reddit right after losing a bruising, high-profile gender discrimination suit earlier this year.

After Taylor's dismissal, moderators revolted, shutting public access to hundreds of discussion boards over several days. Users also circulated an online petition, that has gathered more than 200,000 signatures, calling for Pao to step down.

Pao posted an apology this week for the way the Taylor firing was handled. On Friday, she released a statement on Reddit saying that she resigned because "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 also had some words for those who harassed, insulted and even leveled death threats at her. Pao said that her time as Reddit's chief executive showed her "the good, the bad and the ugly on reddit. The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity."

Still, she said that the positive parts of Reddit outweighed the bad for her, and thanked those who offered her support. "Thank you to all the users who shared your excitement about reddit and what we’ve done and for encouraging everyone to remember the human," Pao wrote, emphasizing those last three words.

The company's statement on Friday obliquely acknowledged the heart of many longtime Reddit users' complaints about Pao -- that she was not in tune with the community.

"Product and community are the two legs of reddit, and the board was very focused on finding a candidate who excels at both (truthfully, community is harder), which Steve does," the statement said, "He has the added bonus of being a founder with ten years of reddit history in his head. "

But Reddit also chastised its users for heaping contempt on Pao, who board member Sam Altman called "a pioneer for women in the tech industry."

"It was sickening to see some of the things redditors wrote about Ellen," the post said. "The reduction in compassion that happens when we’re all behind computer screens is not good for the world. People are still people even if there is Internet between you."

Altman thanked Pao for bringing focus to the company, which is trying to evolve from a collection of discussion threads into a media powerhouse.

Huffman and Alexis Ohanian, originally roommates at the University of Virginia, started Reddit ten years ago. The pair sold the company to Conde Nast in 2006; Ohanian returned to Reddit last year as its executive chairman. Ohanian will take a new title as "cofounder," according to the post.

Huffman said in the post that his first priorities will be to familiarize himself with the team at Reddit, make a "clear content" policy and improve tools for Reddit's volunteer moderators. He also confirmed that he will be Reddit's permanent chief executive.