Ellen Pao Is Not Impressed with the Media’s Sudden Backbone

Re-alignment seems to be too strong a word for this —

Right, because that implies a deeper, core value shift.

Do you think that the incentives then, for more moderation and less euphemism, have started to shift already?

I’m curious to see how long this lasts. Are they going to say, “Oh, this is an exception for one outlier that’s now been defeated, thanks to our efforts?” It’s amazing to see people take credit for some of this late-breaking behavior.

Or: if they say, you know, we need to change our values. We need to be more grounded in truth. We need to change our processes. We need to follow our rules. We can’t have these blanket exceptions. You know, to say like, “Hey, we cannot tolerate intolerance, we can’t both-sides hate and white supremacy.” Right? Like these are the things that require real change. And I don’t know if that’s going to happen.

How do you think the symbiosis between Trump and media platforms is going to pan out? I know Trump has been very good for TV news ratings, and it seems like he is for social media platforms too.

Kevin Roose for The New York Times has a Twitter account that just tweets like the 10 most popular or highest-engagement posts on Facebook, you’ve seen that, right?


It’s outrageous, the links that are most shared on Facebook! I mean, it’s embarrassing, I think, to Facebook management that this is the stuff that their platform is best at sharing and best at amplifying.

I think the same thing goes for Twitter. Trump has how many millions, tens of millions—I think it’s close to 100 million followers. And that’s what the most effective use of the Twitter platform has been for the past four years. And not just on Twitter, but it also gets pulled by the mainstream press and shared in articles and shared online. And it’s so toxic and it’s been so harmful.

The argument for letting Trump and his surrogates spew misinformation on Facebook and Twitter has usually been “he’s the president, so it’s newsworthy,” and that won’t be the case anymore under a Biden Presidency—do you think there’s a sense that won’t matter?

I think it’ll be interesting to see how they treat people and rule-breaking going forward when it’s not the leader of the country, and whether they take deep look at what happened, what their role was in it, and what they want to see happen going forward and change their rules, change their approach, and really think about what they want their company to stand for.

One of the things you’ve been trying to make clear for the past few years is how media platforms are wholly focused on engagement, and it doesn’t matter what kind of engagement it is—unless regulation is imminent. Do you think this election is changing the temperature at all? Or is moderation just happening because lawmakers are looking at tech platforms?

It feels like they’re thinking, “All right, let’s do the minimum to get through these PR crises.” And then, you know, [they] just go back to normal because it’s not just that they only care about engagement. They want engagement that has conflict. That is the kind of engagement that drives a ton of traffic. Like at Reddit, when there was something controversial, our numbers spiked, huge amounts. That’s where we had our growth, when there was something controversial.

When we had those unauthorized nude photos, our growth spiked so much we almost couldn’t run the platform anymore. We couldn’t run the site and we had to take down huge sections of the site. To our credit, we got rid of that, but it was a hard decision. We banned revenge porn and nude photos. And it was like, we were the first platform to do it. It was super controversial at the time. Like you look back and it’s like, “Oh, it’s really dumb that we allowed somebody to post stolen nude photos or to have revenge porn.” But six years ago, that’s what everybody was doing.