So Ellen Pao is About to Discover the Roger Goodell Problem

Roger Goodell is the President of the NFL, and despite huge love for the NFL itself, Goodell is hated by many, even most, fans.  At the NFL draft, which attacts arguably the biggest fans of the NFL, Goodell gets booed every time he walks on stage.  One reason for this is the decision Goodell made a number of years ago to "police" player behavior.  Tired of bad headlines about this or that player being involved in some sort of (alleged) criminal activity, Goodell decided to crack down.  No longer was it enough that the criminal justice system had a process for punishing people who break the law, Goodell wanted the NFL to be seen to be layering on extra punishment.

I said from the very beginning that this policy was fraught with problems.  If the NFL wanted a conduct policy, it should establish simple mechanical rules tied to outcomes in the justice system.  For example, a rule that says that if convicted of a misdemeanor a player would get a standard X game suspension.   Goodell's role should be limited to correcting the inevitable unfair situation where mechanical rules lead to poor outcomes.

But no, Goodell, like many smart people, fell into the trap of thinking he was smart enough to mete out punishments himself.  This has led to a real mess.  The public compares each punishment (and non-punishment) to all other such decisions and immediately get upset about perceived inconsistencies.  Worse, having established the precedent of policing conduct, he is being pushed by various vocal constituencies to police even non-crimes, like  unwelcome speech.  On average day in sports talk radio, you are as likely to hear a discussion of Goodell's conduct rulings as you are about anything on the field.

In taking over Reddit, Ellen Pao is heading into the same technocratic trap.  She has begun to ban certain forums and types of speech on the platform, but she has not established any consistent public rules for doing so other than her own judgement.  She appears to be deleting things that offend her personally (and early mass deletions of content critical of herself personally seems a really bad way to start).  And as with Goodell, two bad things are already happening (even beyond the more fundamental Reddit user issue that she is violating a core ethic of Reddit by censoring).  First, she is being called out for lack of consistency with folks saying "how can you ban X and not Y."  And second, she is apparently already getting pushed by various constituencies to be more and more aggressive at censoring certain classes of speech.   Once she established herself as censor in chief, she became an immediate lobbying target for many, many groups, and that is going to just get worse.  Just look at how much of Goodell's time is now sucked up into personal conduct issues.


  1. Mike Powers:

    "Once she established herself as censor in chief, she became an immediate
    lobbying target for many, many groups, and that is going to just get

    So does this mean that now we *aren't* allowed to just point to the DMCA safe-harbor provisions and say "content in comments is not my responsibility, neener neener" (which is exactly what right-wing blogs have been saying since forever)?

  2. jdgalt:

    Fortunately for those of us in threatened groups, Reddit's software is free and open-source. So the result of all this is going to be that Reddit will separate into many smaller web sites, hosting independent forums that Ms. Pao doesn't control. At least one subreddit I'm on is already setting up this possibility.

  3. JW:

    Reddit deserves every bit of misery that's headed this way for hiring that train wreck as a CEO, interim or no.

    Sucks that the community has to bear the brunt of her ideological purges, but maybe this will spur its board to reconsider.

  4. Matthew Slyfield:

    "At the NFL draft, which attacts arguably the biggest fans of the NFL, Goodell gets booed every time he walks on stage."

    Something is not right in this sentence. Why would the NFL draft assault NFL fans?

  5. jdgalt:

    The draft doesn't offend NFL fans. But Commissioner Goodell does (for butting into players' private lives), and the draft and the Hall of Fame game are about the only events where he appears in front of fans.

  6. jdgalt:

    Signing our petition to the board may also help.

  7. jdgalt:

    Reddit itself can. And subreddit moderators can if sued. But that doesn't protect either them or commenters from the possibility that Ms. Pao will delete their posts or their forums. Alternative forums will need to be started to accomplish that. And I'm sure they will be.

    The CEO has already earned herself a new nickname on Reddit itself: "Kung Pao Chicken."

  8. Noumenon72:

    That nickname is lame. "Chairman Pao" is much more pointed.

  9. bobby_b:

    It occurs to me that, upon hearing that your new department boss left her last job in a screaming fury on all sides and was then schooled in court publicly as being too timid and unwilling to get tough, resumes should be updated, or at least found.

  10. CT_Yankee:

    Coyote doesn't remove stupid posts. Coyote is not responsible for siring on raising the trolls that generate garbage (thus not responsible for how much stupidity they might be capable of achieving), or for "permitting" whatever trash they dream up. If Coyote were to scrub a few posts, whatever remained would appear to have his approval. Coyote has made it clear that he will not get involved in comment's contents, so no one can claim either support or opposition to whatever some random clown posted. Reddit has started to censor, so whatever is left is "acceptable", providing some substance to the claim of some level of approval or endorsement if posts or threads still exist. There is no point in calling, writing, texting, posting viral video's or picketing Coyote in an attempt to remove someone's stupid comments. By making it clear that there is no censorship, there is no point in even responding to attempts to steer the censorship. Reddit has started censorship, leaving them open to "guidance" from the public about what "should" be censored. Plenty of people will soon step into that role, and many of them will lobby to censor each other. Let the festivities begin! Oh! I almost forgot, any post that disagrees with me should be flagged and removed, with the poster and their descendants barred for 3 generations...

  11. Mike Powers:

    "Coyote doesn't remove stupid posts."

    I'm not talking about him specifically.

  12. Me too:

    This will be the end of reddit.

  13. Gteichrow:

    Long live FOSS. I hope I never see the day I have to resort to using Tor.