Among all the things that a prince should guard against is being contemptible and hated, and liberality leads you to both. So there is more wisdom in maintaining a name for meanness, which begets infamy without hatred, than in being under a necessity, because one wants to have a name for liberality, to incur a name for rapacity, which begets infamy with hatred.
-Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 1532
Former CEO of reddit, Ellen Pao, was not a well-liked (or well-respected) leader and her eventual resignation was met with glee by many members of the reddit community. As CEO, Pao struggled to maintain users’ safety from harassment (on and offline) while also allowing ‘edgy’ (read: bigoted, misogynistic, bordering-on-illegal) content. Even after resigning, Pao was subject to trolling, flaming, and harassment by reddit users–ironically, these were precisely the behaviours that she fought to reduce for the betterment of the site. Her denouncement of these ugly facets of reddit worked only to fan the flaming. Pao was perceived as an intolerant fundamentalist trying to impose moral absolutes on reddit.
Pao’s replacement by reddit co-founder Steve Huffman (a.k.a. spez) symbolizes the renewed alliance between the cultural transgressors and the liberal advocates of freedom of speech, since both are able, unlike absolutists like Pao, to tolerate even that which is most intolerable. Whereas Pao defended those who felt that reddit’s policies tended to reinforce unequal power relations and created unsafe environments for women, people of colour, and other marginalized groups, Hoffman has thus far aligned himself with the ‘abyss artists’–John Durham Peters’ term for those who dance along the edge of acceptability and threaten to destroy the social fabric–through his laissez-faire method of dealing with offensive subreddits: rather than banning these kinds of subs outright, Huffman’s method of quarantining hides the subreddits from the ‘average’ user who might find them offensive; only registered and verified members who opt-in are able to access the content. However, Huffman’s policies have been met with the same sorts of criticism as Pao (“it’s an assault on free speech!”). Perhaps being the leader of a website meant to uphold the values of liberalism, such as unmitigated freedom of expression, means, as Machiavelli claimed, being inevitably subject to hatred and contempt.