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Ellen Pao's war against internet trolls extends far beyond Reddit

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Ellen Pao, who recently resigned as CEO of Reddit, has been in the news a lot lately. On Thursday, she bypassed the option to release a brief statement or provide short comments on the issues that led to her resignation, choosing instead to write an essay about trolling in her own words. Her take: that all of us are involved in the problem — and the solution.

The nearly 500-word essay in the Washington Post (a must-read for anyone interested in the future of the internet) quickly pivoted from a review of the challenges of moderating free speech online to a call to save the internet from trolls who use the expansive Wild West of the web to inflict harm and pain upon others:

The Internet started as a bastion for free expression. It encouraged broad engagement and a diversity of ideas. Over time, however, that openness has enabled the harassment of people for their views, experiences, appearances or demographic backgrounds. Balancing free expression with privacy and the protection of participants has always been a challenge for open-content platforms on the Internet. But that balancing act is getting harder. The trolls are winning. . . .

We were naive in our initial expectations for the Internet, an early Internet pioneer told me recently. We focused on the huge opportunity for positive interaction and information sharing. We did not understand how people could use it to harm others. . . .

In the battle for the Internet, the power of humanity to overcome hate gives me hope. I’m rooting for the humans over the trolls. I know we can win.

Advocating for a broad societal responsibility for enforcing ethical and moral rules that should (or should not) define behavior on the internet — a responsibility shared with digital platform companies like Reddit — is not new. What is new, however, is that a high-level executive would publicly ask for our help to solve what she considers an event that "happened" to her. This phrasing implies that Pao sees trolling as a collective action outside of the control of trolls' targets — no more blaming the victim for trolling.

Pao recommends the opposite advice of most and refuses to ignore the trolls; she is asking us to do the same. And when trolls attack others, Pao says we should all work to prevent and mitigate their harms. No more solely blaming the platforms for trolling.