The drama continues at Reddit as the company tries to move on from a tumultuous couple of weeks in which its userbase revolted and its interim chief executive, Ellen Pao, resigned. Now Reddit’s chief engineer, Bethanye Blount, has also parted ways with the company after just two months on the job.
Blount was hired by Pao -- one of many key company executives that Pao lured to Reddit during her months as its interim chief executive. According to an interview with Recode, Blount left because she "had lost confidence in the new direction of the company." A Reddit spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday that Blount is no longer with the company.
Blount’s decampment marks the third high-profile exit — all women — from Reddit in as many weeks. And while former director of talent Victoria Taylor, Pao and Blount all left Reddit under different circumstances, the manner of their departures indicate not all is right at the online message board company. Blount's departure is particularly telling, since she was neither fired nor ousted -- she was by all accounts a talented, well-regarded employee who left completely under her own steam because of her own concerns about where Reddit is heading.
In other words, after a drawn-out, ugly, public fight between Reddit and its users to remove Ellen Pao and "fix" Reddit, it's possible that the core issues haven't changed at all.
The turmoil at Reddit spilled out publicly when the popular Taylor was fired. The company’s powerful moderators — users who don’t work for the company but control its discussion boards — temporarily cut off public access to parts of the site several weeks ago in protest. Pao, who was largely blamed for firing Taylor by users, endured withering criticism and resigned last week.
But according to recent posts by Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian and others, it was Ohanian — not Pao — who was responsible for Taylor’s departure. So while the details around Taylor’s dismissal remain murky, a counter-narrative is now being circulated among Reddit’s users that questions whether Pao was really the person who should have taken the fall.
Many are writing that Pao was pushed over what's known as the "glass cliff," a reference to the fact that many female chief executives are often brought into the top position only at times of trouble for companies. (Examples often include Carol Bartz at Yahoo, Jill Abrahamson at the New York Times and, arguably, Marissa Mayer at Yahoo.)
In other words, they're set up to fail. Former Reddit chief executive Yishan Wong -- whose decision to leave Reddit opened up the spot for Pao -- has done the most to push this narrative along. In a post on the site, Wong said that Ohanian should have stepped up to take some of the blame after Taylor’s firing.
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. In this case it shouldn't have traveled upstream to her, it came from above her.
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.
Ohanian has clarified in response to Wong's statement that he did, in fact, report to Pao, not the other way around. But he hasn't offered a real counter-argument to Wong either, saying that he simply can't elaborate, likely due to the fact that this is a personnel issue.
In the wake of the departures, Reddit finds itself dealing with far more problems than it had just a few weeks ago. The fact that all three of these employees are women, certainly doesn’t help Reddit’s image as the “man cave” of the Internet. The harassment leveled at Ellen Pao over her attempts to curb harassment on the site were also shot through with misogynist, racist bile, something Reddit is struggling to manage as it seeks to grow into a bigger and more profitable media and social site.
Pao, in her farewell post, didn't say that the harassment or the pressure from users was what sent her out the door -- she specifically said that she didn't think she could deliver the growth metrics the board wanted and stay true to Reddit's core principles.
And Blount, in an interview with Recode, echoed those same concerns: that she didn't think Reddit could follow through on its promises to its users.
"I feel like there are going be some big bumps on the road ahead for Reddit,” Blount said in the interview. “Along the way, there are some very aggressive implied promises being made to the community — in comments to mods, quotes from board members — and they’re going have some pretty big challenges in meeting those implied promises."
Reddit's co-founder and new chief executive Steve Huffman has said that he doesn't think making the tools for moderators will be difficult. But in a post on Reddit Tuesday, Huffman did say that yes, Reddit will have to take a hard look at itself as it moves forward -- even if that means shutting down parts of its community.
"The overwhelming majority of content on reddit comes from wonderful, creative, funny, smart, and silly communities," Huffman wrote. "That is what makes reddit great. There is also a dark side, communities whose purpose is reprehensible, and we don’t have any obligation to support them. And we also believe that some communities currently on the platform should not be here at all."
"We as a community need to decide together what our values are," he said.
And that won't be clean or easy.