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Internet trolls are winning the war: Former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao

The Internet is evolving and -- spoiler alert – the trolls are winning. That’s the message from former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao.
The Internet is evolving and -- spoiler alert – the trolls are winning. That’s the message from former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao. AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File

The Internet is evolving and — spoiler alert – the trolls are winning. That’s the message from former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao.

In a post published to The Washington Post‘s website Thursday, Pao described her experience at the helm of online forum Reddit – a position she resigned from earlier this month.

She compared her experience enduring “one of the largest trolling attacks in history” to ways in which the Internet is evolving.

What started as a “bastion for free expression” has devolved into an open market for harassment, bullying and intimidation.

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

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Free expression, she said, is a founding principal of the Internet, but those founders had no idea what the implications of such a free and open space would be.

Pao detailed research highlighting how prevalent harassment on the Internet has become.

Pao herself became the target of harsh criticism after a number of subreddit forums were shutdown. The shutdowns stemmed from new community guidelines announced in the spring, which were meant to crack down on abusive behaviour on the site.

After five subreddits were removed for violating the anti-harassment guidelines, Reddit users rebelled.

A number of users called Pao a totalitarian, accusing her of censorship. Petitions were launched calling for her resignation. One Change.org petition had more than 200,000 signatures.

After Reddit fired a popular moderator, a number of subreddits shut down in protest.

In her post Thursday, Pao said that Reddit “exhibits all the good, the bad and the ugly of the Internet.” The trouble comes in balancing how much of the bad and ugly the general population sees.

“No one has figured out the best place to draw the line between bad and ugly.”

With Pao’s departure, co-founder Steve Huffman is Reddit’s new CEO.

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In a Reddit post published Wednesday, Huffman said that there are some communities currently on the platform that “should not be here at all.”

He added that Reddit was not created to be a “bastion of free speech, but rather as a place where open and honest discussion can happen.”

Huffman will host an AMA on Thursday to provide feedback on the site’s content policy.