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No, Ellen Pao, The Trolls Are Not Winning

In her fight against trolling, former reddit CEO Ellen Pao has become the ultimate troll herself.


Former reddit CEO Ellen Pao complained in a column for the Washington Post on Thursday that she was a victim of cyber bullying, and that the trolls are winning the Internet. Pao recently resigned from her post as CEO amidst a scandal that resulted in large portions of the site going dark.

“I have just endured one of the largest trolling attacks in history,” Pao wrote.

Ugh, cry me a river. Pao has a history of victimizing herself to get ahead. She recently lost a gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, where she was a junior partner until five months after she filed her lawsuit. Pao alleged that the company passed her over for a promotion, her male co-workers didn’t invite her on a skiing trip, and she was continually subjected to sexist comments, all because she was a woman.

To be clear, sexism is definitely a real thing, and it seems that Pao had to deal with rude comments from her co-workers from time to time. But her pattern of playing the victim after failing at her job is unmistakable. She gets passed up for promotion, she sues, crying sexism. She implements arbitrary censorship standards, fires likable employees, and nearly destroys reddit’s community, then steps down and whines about it.

“Balancing free expression with privacy and the protection of participants has always been a challenge for open-content platforms on the Internet,” Pao wrote in her Washington Post op-ed. “But that balancing act is getting harder. The trolls are winning.”

But that’s where Pao is wrong. They aren’t winning. Being bullied or trolled isn’t anything new, and sexism has been around since, well forever. Pao isn’t experiencing anything new, and she certainly isn’t the poster child for innocent victims of Internet criticism. The reality is that Pao was a terrible CEO, and she deserved a good portion of the flack she received.

Bloomberg‘s Megan McArdle ably noted Pao’s inability to set clear, objective standards as CEO:

If you want to take a serious stand against harassment, or offensiveness, the way to do it is not to pick the five that got the most complaints and knock them off; it’s to develop site-wide standards that are, insofar as possible, objectively outlined and don’t map onto obvious political categories.

The same day Pao’s column was published, reddit’s new CEO and co-founder, Steve Huffman, explained new policies to moderate offensive content. Huffman said content that incites violence would be taken down, but offensive or ugly content would otherwise remain. Much of it will be hidden behind a login page, and the company will not actively seek to monetize the content. While the new system isn’t perfect, those who post ugly content certainly aren’t “winning.”

In the closing line of her column, Pao dehumanized reddit users by pitting the trolls against humans.

“In the battle for the Internet, the power of humanity to overcome hate gives me hope,” she said. “I’m rooting for the humans over the trolls. I know we can win.”

Puh-lease, as if the reddit wars are like a Terminator film, in which humans must battle trolls machines in order to stay alive. Pao must’ve forgotten that trolls are humans, too. Dehumanizing those who hold opposing beliefs has long been a tactic of tyrants. You might even call it the worst form of trolling. Pao just can’t seem to help herself from being a censor-happy dictator who dehumanizes those she disagree with in order to silence them.

In her fight against trolling, Pao has become the ultimate troll.