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Reddit ex-CEO Ellen Pao says site used to be overwhelmed by ‘naked pictures of celebrities’

  • Ellen Pao spoke critically of Reddit in a Recode Decode podcast.
  • Pao said she was asked to leave Reddit after telling the company's board she couldn't reach 350 million without making other fixes first.
  • Reddit now has about 300 million monthly active users, mostly male.
Ellen Pao arrives at San Francisco Superior Court, March 24, 2015.
Robert Galbraith | Reuters
Ellen Pao arrives at San Francisco Superior Court, March 24, 2015.

Former Reddit CEO and venture investor Ellen Pao said in a Recode Decode podcast that at one time the social media site was completely overwhelmed by demand for naked celebrity pics.

Pao told Recode founder Kara Swisher:

"Before we got rid of unauthorized nude pictures, the whole site was people looking for naked pictures of celebrities...Is that what you want your site to be? Devolve into that crap…? If you're the only site that allows it, then that is what you're going to be."

Pao also shared details about why she was asked to leave the company in 2015. She said other Reddit leaders wanted the platform to grow to 350 million or possibly 500 million monthly active users within a year. She told them:

"'That just is not possible. We are going to focus our effort on getting rid of all of this harassment on the site and getting rid of some other noxious parts of the site. The product is barely working and scaling. We have a lot of technical debt and you want us to hire. There's only so much that can be done. I cannot commit to you that we'll get to 350 million. So, they said, 'Oh we'll get somebody else.'"

Prior to her departure, Pao was criticized and harassed by groups of Reddit users, who are mostly male. She was accused of suppressing free speech by approving the ban of nude pictures and revenge porn on the site, and by shutting down discussion forums called subreddits that had been specifically created to harass others.

Some users sent harrowing messages and posted content mocking or threatening Pao and members of her family for everything from their looks to Pao's leadership at the company.

Before joining Reddit, Pao worked at venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. She gained national recognition in 2012 for suing the legendary firm for gender discrimination and retaliation. Pao lost the suit, but her case was seen as a bellwether that could make it easier for women in tech and finance to come forward about discrimination in tech and finance.

Reddit still hasn't reached its goal of 350 million monthly active users. The site reportedly 300 million users and, according to Alexa rankings, is the fourth most-visited website in the U.S.

In July, Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman said the company had raised $200 million and attained a $1.8 billion valuation from investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, Coatue, Fidelty and Vy Capital.