The mess at Reddit is growing messier.
Just days after interim chief executive Ellen Pao left the company, Reddit chief engineer Bethanye Blount quit, telling technology site Re/Code that she didn't believe she "could deliver on promises being made to the community." She added that she believed Pao had been placed on a "glass cliff," a term that's used to describe when women are given leadership roles during times of crisis, which heightens the likelihood of failure.
Blount's departure, which came just two months after she started working at the social media firm, isn't helping the online community's image as a tough place for women. Pao, for instance, was the subject of vitriolic comments relating to her gender and race from community members who were frustrated about her attempts to ban topic areas linked to harassment, such as one called "fatpeoplehate." Pao was also blamed for the firing of a popular Reddit employee who had managed the "Ask Me Anything" feature, although it's not clear if Pao was behind that personnel decision.
Aside from the high-profile departures of two top employees who were also women, there remains a question that has bedeviled Reddit for years: Can an unruly message board that largely relies on unpaid labor mature into a profitable business? And would reining in the forum's wild-and-woolly culture risk alienating its fan base and dedicated moderators?
Blount told Re/Code that she's uncertain about the site's future, which is one reason she left.
"I feel like there are going be some big bumps on the road ahead for Reddit," she told the tech publication. "Along the way, there are some very aggressive implied promises being made to the community -- in comments to mods, quotes from board members -- and they're going have some pretty big challenges in meeting those implied promises."
By implied promises, Blount was referring to tools that are supposed to help deal with harassing comments and content.
The problem at Reddit is that many in its core user base -- who tend to be young and male -- are happy with the free-for-all atmosphere. By contrast, the company's leadership believes that growing Reddit requires an environment that's more open to women and people of color, as well as other groups. Women, after all, are more than half of the U.S. population, yet Pew Research found that women were only half as likely to use Reddit as men.
That disconnect between the current user base and the company's vision of growth was cited by Pao in her resignation. "Ultimately, the board asked me to demonstrate higher user growth in the next six months than I believe I can deliver while maintaining Reddit's core principles," Pao wrote.
She also noted that the harassing comments she had received during her time as Reddit's interim CEO "made me doubt humanity."
With Pao's departure, co-founder Steve Huffman has returned as CEO. Huffman told Re/Code that Blount's departure wasn't related to gender, and that the company was confident in its ability to hire women in leadership roles.
"I returned because of my confidence in the company to accomplish said goals and I've committed publicly to two things: Creating a new Content Policy, which we are hard at work on, and improving tools for moderation, which are also in progress," Huffman said. "I don't foresee any difficulty in accomplishing either of these things in the near future."
Adding to the complexity of Reddit's mission is its well-heeled investors. In 2011, it was bought by Advance Publications, the owner of Condé Nast, which publishes old-school media outlets such as The New Yorker and Vogue. Reddit also has attracted investors including top Silicon Valley entrepreneurs such as Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen. Those investors are likely to want to see Reddit show growth, which will require breaking out of its current niche.
Reddit could likely continue as a sounding board for online discussion and debate. But if it truly wants to become "the front page of the Internet," as it bills itself, the company will face pressure to become a more welcoming and inclusive place to people all backgrounds.