Lesson from Reddit Fiasco: Keep Community Under Control

reddit lessons

It’s common knowledge that saying the wrong thing online can cost you your job.

But sometimes what other people say online can have consequences as well.

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Take the case of former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, who stepped down last week in the wake of a campaign by site users, critical of how she handled the company, who wanted to see her fired.

Pao announced her resignation on Friday, saying it was a mutual decision by her and the company.

As the Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan put it Monday:

Although she doesn’t tie it to her resignation, Pao was much more expansive when writing about the vitriol she endured during her eight months at the helm of the site that is alternately called the Internet’s “front page” and its “most hateful space.” The vast majority of her post was devoted to examining the way she and others were treated on the site.

“I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly on Reddit. The good has been off-the-wall inspiring, and the ugly made me doubt humanity,” she wrote. “I just want to remind everyone that I am just another human; I have a family, and I have feelings.”

In the weeks before her resignation, a Change.org petition had begun circulating calling for Pao’s dismissal. It blamed her for the banning of a series of Subreddits devoted to topics like racism, fat-shaming and transphobia.

Even with Pao gone, Reddit has a difficult problem, writes Bloomberg columnist Megan McArdle:

 “Having built its user base on the promise that Reddit was the place where no one would interfere with you being you, even if you happen to be a gigantic jerk whose greatest pleasure in life is saying ugly, offensive things about other people, Reddit was in a poor place to declare that all that free expression would no longer be tolerated quite so freely.  Any CEO who tried to clamp down on the racism and fat shaming and harassment and so forth would have faced a real risk that the user base would suddenly decamp, leaving them with a lot of archives and no ongoing business proposition.”

Pao’s departure raises questions about the best way to manage these communities and monitor their behavior. It’s not just an issue for big companies like Reddit. Most small businesses have some sort of online presence that welcomes comments, whether it’s through a blog or on social media.

Here are a few tips to handle negativity on your social media, courtesy of CIO:

  1. Don’t respond to a legitimate complaint with an automated response.
  2. Avoid the temptation to answer insults with a witty retort. Instead, try to reply with understanding and solve the problem.
  3. Ignore trolls until they move on.
  4. Delete troll comments on sponsored posts.
  5. Ignore complaints that can’t be fixed, at least in most cases.

Tangling with negative comments probably won’t get you the kind of press Ellen Pao got. But that doesn’t mean handling things the wrong way can’t be damaging.

Reddit Photo via Shutterstock


Tom Coombe Tom Coombe is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a professional writer for over 15 years, spending most of that time covering news in the Lehigh Valley. He's worked as a reporter for the Allentown Morning Call and an editor for AOL's Patch.com news service. Tom has also freelanced for WFMZ, the Produce Marketing Association and a number of other publications.

4 Reactions
  1. The sad fact of the matter is that there are some people out there who simply exist to bait people on the internet. Choose your battles carefully & wisely because sometimes the damage that social media can do to an individual is irreversible.

  2. I have to admit that all the negativity in social media is getting out of control. Just because there is freedom doesn’t mean that you can use it to spread hate in the planet. After all, it does not even help anyone.

    • Aira I have to completely disagree.

      Hate is a form of expression and if you claim to allow anything then you must allow what you term ‘spreading hate’. And if you can’t see that it is ok to post hate or things that ‘others’ will deem hateful then you really don’t believe in the freedom of speech…our 1st Amendment.

      What you term ‘spreading hate’ is another person’s strong beliefs. It’s all perspective.

      So basically you just told everybody that unless it is what you think is ok to post, that unless it isn’t what YOU term as spreading hate then it is ok….see how that is a ridiculous way to go about your life every day?

      Our founding fathers to this country would be labelled as terrorists in today’s media yet they were the most important people this country has ever had. Because they would be labelled as terrorists everything they have said would also be looked at the same way, as hate speech from terrorists…yet it is still applied to our current situation.

      Open your eyes and realize that not everybody shares your belief system and if everything that could be labelled as hate speech was censored….EVERYTHING WOULD BE CENSORED!

      • BigJibbs,

        Freedom of speech is not the same thing as having the right to post on a private forum board. It is up to the owners to decide the rules.

        Btw: I don’t believe in the label, “hate speech,” it is a P.C. term.

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