ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
There's a new policy at the online discussion site Reddit. Reddit bills itself as the front page of the Internet, an entertainment, social networking and news site where users known as Redditors post text, pictures and video. The new policy is aimed at Reddit's reputation as a site of unbridled free speech, speech that sometimes spills over into harassment, sexism, racism and anti-Semitism. Ellen Pao is interim CEO of Reddit. You may remember her as the plaintiff in a big Silicon Valley sex discrimination lawsuit. Ellen Pao, welcome to the program.
ELLEN PAO: Thank you.
SIEGEL: And Reddit says its new policy aims to promote ideas and protect people, so if someone is being harassed or threatened, they can now complain. What happens if someone complains?
PAO: It's actually an extension of an existing policy. We're just clarifying a little bit more to provide a better definition of harassment. And when people feel like they're being harassed on Reddit, they can complain to our administrators, who are actual Reddit employees who are taking a closer look and managing more of the harassment on the site.
SIEGEL: The policy was published last week. Have there been more complaints in the past week at Reddit than there were previously?
PAO: We've seen more complaints coming to us. We've had 20 to 30 complaints in the past - I guess it's been about half a week. And we've been managing them, and with our larger team, it's been very manageable.
SIEGEL: As I understand it, you have millions of users, and you have a few dozen employees at Reddit. Does that balance check out? Can you actually deal with harassing speech, threatening speech on the site with such a heavy ratio of postings to people who might look at them?
PAO: It is definitely hard. We also have thousands of people who are moderating - volunteer moderators who help people comply with the rules and policies of Reddit by taking an active role in managing the content. So that's been a huge help in allowing us to get to 170 million monthly unique users and have only, you know, less than a hundred employees.
SIEGEL: Redditors, users, can be anonymous. Doesn't that mean that someone who's contributing harassing material - whom you speak with, even - can keep doing it under a variety of pseudonyms?
PAO: We have ways of finding them, and we have ways of looking for repeat behavior or methods of coming to our site that can help us track down the anonymous users who may try to create fake accounts.
SIEGEL: Here's Reddit's definition of harassment from the statement published last week. It's systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person one - conclude that Reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation or two - fear for their safety or the safety of those around them.
Now, there are some discussion threads, as you know, at Reddit called subreddits, I mean, a couple of which are overtly anti-black, anti-Semitic. If a Jewish Redditor looked at a subreddit called, very offensively, Gas The Kikes, and said it makes me feel unsafe, I wouldn't take part in that, would you take it down?
PAO: The question is whether it would make them fear for their safety or the safety of those around them or where it makes them feel like it's not a safe platform. So somebody expressing ideas that aren't consistent with everybody's views is something that we encourage. There are certain posts that do make people feel unsafe - that people feel threatened or they feel that their family or friends or people near them are going to be unsafe. And those are the specific things that we are focused on today. It's not our site's goal to be a completely free speech platform. We want to be a safe platform, and we want to be a platform that also protects privacy at the same time.
SIEGEL: But are you thinking of harassment very much as something targeting a specific individual, as opposed to an individual who's part of a group that would feel targeted by a whole thread of discussion on Reddit?
PAO: That's a good question. We are currently focused on addressing harassment perpetrated by individual users. We know we do have a problem of group harassment as well, but we're trying to address one problem at a time, and we will get to group harassment next.
SIEGEL: Ellen Pao, I mentioned your discrimination lawsuit against your old employer, the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. You lost in a jury trial there. Are you going to appeal that verdict, by the way? We're curious to know.
PAO: I haven't decided yet, and that's something that I'm actually not at liberty to discuss.
SIEGEL: I'm wondering about if there is any connection between these two things. When you were a very high-profile plaintiff, did you find yourself being attacked and bullied online by people?
PAO: There were some. There were definitely comments from people all over the Internet that were pretty negative. More of the negative comments were from anonymous folks, and it was difficult to see what the substance behind their comments were, and a lot of the information was wrong. And I would have people who would reach out with very personal stories. Very emotional connections were formed over the course of the trial and before and afterwards that were really inspiring to me and really helped me feel confidence in what I was doing and feel good about what happened even though the outcome was not exactly what I wanted.
SIEGEL: Ellen Pao, thank you very much for talking with us about Reddit's new policy on harassment.
PAO: Thank you, Robert. Great to meet you.
SIEGEL: Ellen Pao is the interim CEO of Reddit. She spoke to us from San Francisco.
By the way, in the interest of disclosure, NPR received an unsolicited donation of about $83,000 from Reddit this year. We were 1 of 10 organizations to receive that amount after a vote in February by Reddit users.
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