Reddit revolt grows as petition to fire Pao cracks 100,000

Luke Graham, special to CNBC

An online petition calling for Ellen Pao, the interim CEO of popular website Reddit, to step down has been signed by over 100,000 people who are deeply critical of her leadership.

Controversy over Pao's handling of the firing of a popular Reddit administrator continued to grow, as the uproar prompted several discussion boards to be taken offline, while the CEO lost more support among Reddit's users.

According to the petition, Pao is responsible for "a new age of censorship" on the website. The petition began three weeks ago after five forums (known as subreddits) on the site were banned for breaking Reddit's anti-harassment policy.

The appointment of Pao, the plaintiff in a high profile Silicon Valley discrimination lawsuit recently, was polarizing from the start. Some users were concerned that she would censor certain of the site's more freewheeling communities. Reddit's recent clampdown on a number of offensive subreddits led some users to deride her as "Chairman Pao."

"A vast majority of the Reddit community believes that Pao, "a manipulative individual who will sue her way to the top," has overstepped her boundaries and fears that she will run Reddit into the ground" the petition says.

Ellen Pao, former junior partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and current CEO of Reddit, arrives at state court in San Francisco in March
Noah Berger | Bloomberg | Getty Images

At the same time, over 100 of Reddit's most popular forums have been set to "private," in effect locking them off, by their moderators in protest against the company's decision to dismiss Director of Talent Victoria Taylor.

In a Friday interview with Time Magazine, Pao apologized for the abruptness of Taylor's firing, saying the company didn't handle the transition well, although she declined to comment on the reasons behind Taylor's dismissal.

The moderators (unpaid, voluntary web users who help to run the subreddits) relied on Taylor to help arrange Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions, a highly popular feature where members of the public or celebrities could answer questions from Reddit users.

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"Victoria was important to AMAs for a number of major reasons: firstly, she provided concrete proof of the identity of a celebrity doing an AMA, and made sure that it was not a second party purporting to be the celebrity; she was also a direct line of contact to the admins, allowing the moderators of AMA to quickly resolve an issue encountered during an AMA," explained Reddit moderator Gilgamesh in an online post.

Taylor's dismissal is not the only reason moderators are unsatisfied. "There is a feeling among many of the moderators of reddit that the admins do not respect the work that is put in by the thousands of unpaid volunteers who maintain the communities of the 9,656 active subreddits," Gilgamesh added.

Pao joined Reddit in 2013 and was appointed CEO in November 2014. She recently lost a gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employers Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm.

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