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It has been a rough couple of weeks for the popular website, Reddit. After the company dismissed one of its most popular employees, outraged Redditors were calling for the head of interim CEO Ellen Pao. Last Sunday, Pao came on this show to respond. Yesterday, she resigned. NPR's Laura Sydell reports the intensity of the attacks on Pao is part of the struggle for Reddit as it tries to become profitable.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Whatever you're into, you can probably find people like you on Reddit. The site has tens of thousands of what are called subreddits about everything from the day's news to fountain pens.
AHMED HUSSEIN: And there's 25,000 of us, and we have discussions every day about fountain pens.
SYDELL: Twenty-five-year-old Ahmed Hussein (ph) volunteers to run the fountain pen subreddit. Some subreddits have millions of users. Take Ask Me Anything - it hosts big celebrities and politicians. President Obama did a written question-and-answer session. Hussein says Ask Me Anything is so big it got a lot of help from a full-time Reddit employee, Victoria Taylor.
HUSSEIN: They fired her without even telling the moderators of the interview subreddit that this was going to be happening.
SYDELL: Reddit still hasn't explained why Taylor was dismissed, but it has caused a firestorm on the site. There was a petition with over 200,000 signatures demanding interim CEO Ellen Pao's resignation. Pao was compared to Hitler. She was the target of death threats and, ironically, a lot of sexist comments. If Pao's name sounds familiar, it may be because she was the plaintiff in a high-profile gender discrimination suit against Kleiner Perkins. That's one of the most prestigious venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, and Pao used to work there.
Pao lost her case, but salacious details about Kleiner brought up a lot of issues about how women are treated in the tech world. In a post on Reddit, Pao says she's leaving because the board asked her to bring in higher user growth in the next six months than she believes is possible while maintaining Reddit's core principles. Sam Altman, a member of the Reddit board, says Reddit may be popular, but it only breaks even. The site has been clamping down on subreddits that aren't advertising-friendly. The previous CEO, Yishan Wong, resigned in the wake of a big dustup over banning subreddits with nude celebrity photos. Wong was followed by Pao.
SAM ALTMAN: I thought there was some real chance that Reddit, the company, and thus, Reddit, the community, was just going to implode. She walked into a real mess.
SYDELL: Then Pao also banned certain subreddits that had offensive content, such as a group that didn't like fat people. User Dave Oshry (ph) admits it was an offensive subreddit, but he says banning it upset a lot of users.
DAVE OSHRY: That was one of the things people saw as - uh oh, they're trying to make it more ad-friendly. If first they go for this super-offensive community, what's to say mine won't be next, or, you know, whatever your community is, your silly thing, you know, where you worship, you know, Nicolas Cage? What if that is suddenly offensive?
SYDELL: The incoming CEO is going to be familiar to longtime Reddit users. It's Steve Huffman, the site's cofounder. But even he may find walking a line between keeping Reddit an open and vital community and a profitable one is going to be a challenge. Laura Sydell, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.