The Internet — always ablaze with controversy — is a wildfire these days with revelations about more pernicious government spying, deals between governments and corporate “hacker companies”, and Ellen Pao’s resignation as head of Reddit.
I’ll have things to say about the rest later this week but the Pao blaze is shining brightest right now and there are some important lessons to be drawn from it.
Since last Fall, Pao has been the “interim CEO” of the privately held corporation (a subsidiary of Conde Nast) that owns one of the Internet’s most remarkable phenomenon. In its ten years of existence, Reddit has grown so large and become so complex that it defies definition.
Happier times? Ellen Pao at Reddit’s Office
At its core, it’s a message board system but with 160 million users and tens of thousands of message boards under its roof tied together by dizzying interaction, it is the closest thing the Internet has to a City. True to Internet culture, it’s run by a kind of anarchistic democracy. People start message systems (called “subreddits”) whenever they want about whatever they want and users who start them moderate and control them. You can post text, photos, links to any kind of content you want (including videos) and people answer each other constantly.
For the most part, it works wonderfully, a model for larger societies — except that in this one the “mean user” is male between 18 to 29 years old and living in the United States. Whether that demographic is a cause or an effect, the fact is that this is no utopia. While most subreddits are friendly informative communities talking about the subreddit’s subject, there are subreddits that are virulently sexist, homophobic and racist. Reddit can, and sometimes does, quickly turn into a lynch mob of immature young men acting destructively and viciously.
Ellen Pao was brought in to deal with the craziness; the craziness has forced her out.
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