Reddit's Ellen Pao Resignation Announcement Is Confusing

On Friday, after a fraught two weeks, Reddit posted an announcement of Ellen Pao's resignation as CEO on its site. "Ellen Pao resigned from reddit today by mutual agreement. I'm delighted to announce that Steve Huffman, founder and the original reddit CEO, is returning as CEO," Reddit investor Sam Altman wrote. Re/code was the first to report on the switch-up, with Pao telling Re/code's Kara Swisher that she had not been fired — “They had a more aggressive view than I did [on growth]" — and that her exit was a "mutual decision."

The full announcement on Reddit, from Altman, reads:

Ellen Pao resigned from reddit today by mutual agreement. I'm delighted to announce that Steve Huffman, founder and the original reddit CEO, is returning as CEO.
We are thankful for Ellen’s many contributions to reddit and the technology industry generally. She brought focus to chaos, recruited a world-class team of executives, and drove growth. She brought a face to reddit that changed perceptions, and is a pioneer for women in the tech industry. She will remain as an advisor to the board through the end of 2015. I look forward to seeing the great things she does beyond that.
We’re very happy to have Steve back. 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. He has the added bonus of being a founder with ten years of reddit history in his head. Steve is rejoining Alexis, who will work alongside Steve with the new title of “cofounder”.
A few other points. Mods, you are what makes reddit great. The reddit team, now with Steve, wants to do more for you. You deserve better moderation tools and better communication from the admins.
Second, redditors, you deserve clarity about what the content policy of reddit is going to be. The team will create guidelines to both preserve the integrity of reddit and to maintain reddit as the place where the most open and honest conversations with the entire world can happen.
Third, as a redditor, I’m particularly happy that Steve is so passionate about mobile. I’m very excited to use reddit more on my phone.
As a closing note, it was sickening to see some of the things redditors wrote about Ellen. [1] 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.
If the reddit community cannot learn to balance authenticity and compassion, it may be a great website but it will never be a truly great community. Steve’s great challenge as CEO [2] will be continuing the work Ellen started to drive this forward.
[1] Disagreements are fine. Death threats are not, are not covered under free speech, and will continue to get offending users banned.
Ellen asked me to point out that the sweeping majority of redditors didn’t do this, and many were incredibly supportive. Although the incredible power of the Internet is the amplification of voices, unfortunately sometimes those voices are hateful.
[2] We were planning to run a CEO search here and talked about how Steve (who we assumed was unavailable) was the benchmark candidate—he has exactly the combination of talent and vision we were looking for. To our delight, it turned out our hypothetical benchmark candidate is the one actually taking the job.
NOTE: I am going to let the reddit team answer questions here, and go do an AMA myself now.

The circumstances surrounding Pao's departure, however, can't be ignored. Although Pao was interim CEO, not the company's permanent CEO, Pao's leaving the company entirely implies that the circumstances weren't anticipated. Pao had been embroiled for much of the past year in a high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit — a lawsuit Pao ultimately lost, although she insists she will appeal — and the online community had, separately, called for her resignation for months, especially after Pao cracked down on harassment with new community guidelines.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

These calls for Pao's resignation were stepped up by the abrupt firing of Reddit employee Victoria Taylor last week. No official explanation was given for Taylor's departure, and the infuriated community and moderators promptly shut down entire parts of the site.

These moderators were addressed directly in Altman's statement:

Mods, you are what makes reddit great. The reddit team, now with Steve, wants to do more for you. You deserve better moderation tools and better communication from the admins.

Pao has been open about her experienced being harassed online — both in the past, and in the wake of Taylor being fired. That, too, is addressed.

Ellen asked me to point out that the sweeping majority of redditors didn’t do this, and many were incredibly supportive. Although the incredible power of the Internet is the amplification of voices, unfortunately sometimes those voices are hateful.

Perhaps the most telling part of Altman's statement concerns what the website will rush to enforce in the wake of Pao's departure.

Second, redditors, you deserve clarity about what the content policy of reddit is going to be. The team will create guidelines to both preserve the integrity of reddit and to maintain reddit as the place where the most open and honest conversations with the entire world can happen.

In the interview with Re/code's Kara Swisher, Pao addressed what she planned to do next. “I am going to get some sleep," she said; Swisher writes that she is "clearly weary." Added Pao, "I have to figure it out, but I am going to take some time off.”