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Reddit Moderators On Going Dark: “The Issue Goes Beyond Reddit”

Moderators of the popular “Ask Me Anything” subreddit wrote a New York Times op-ed explaining why they shut down the site last week.

Reddit Moderators On Going Dark: “The Issue Goes Beyond Reddit”
[Photo: Flickr user Beatrice Murch]

There’s an open revolt underway at Reddit among power users angry at CEO Ellen Pao’s sudden dismissal of beloved talent director Victoria Taylor. Two of Reddit’s most involved volunteers just brought the internal feud into a very public forum, by doing something unprecedented: They published an op-ed in The New York Times airing their grievances with the company’s management.

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The feud, which centers around disagreements between Reddit execs and the unpaid moderators responsible for much of the site’s day-to-day operations, begs the question: Do users deserve a say in how the free social networking sites they frequent are run? In Reddit’s case, those very users are the ones that help keep the site afloat.

In the Times article, Brian Lynch and Courtnie Swearingen, moderators of the popular “Ask Me Anything” forum, explained why they temporarily took down the subreddit last week:

We work hard to maintain the forum for the roughly eight million readers who turn to it each month. But last week we purposely shut it down for 24 hours. We did this after the company abruptly terminated Victoria Taylor, a Reddit employee who worked extensively with us as well as with other moderator teams on facilitating A.M.A.s.

Our primary concern, and reason for taking the site down temporarily, is that Reddit’s management made critical changes to a very popular website without any apparent care for how those changes might affect their biggest resource: the community and the moderators that help tend the subreddits that constitute the site. Moderators commit their time to the site to foster engaging communities. Ms. Taylor’s sudden termination is just the most recent example of management’s making changes without thinking through what those changes might mean for the people who use the site on a daily basis.

The two moderators go on to argue that Reddit’s lack of concern for its prolific users is a bad precedent to set for other companies as well:

The issue goes beyond Reddit. We are concerned with what a move like this means for for-profit companies that depend on the free labor of volunteers — and whether they truly understand what makes an online community vibrant.

Lynch and Swearingen write that they took down the AMA subreddit largely because it could not function smoothly without the help of Taylor, who helped coordinate and schedule AMAs and acted as a liaison between moderators and participants. They also, however, hoped to point out to “relatively tone-deaf company leaders” that removing the Reddit community’s resources without warning was not acceptable:

We feel strongly that this incident is more part of a reckless disregard for the company’s own business and for the work the moderators and users put into the site. Dismissing Victoria Taylor was part of a long pattern of insisting the community and the moderators do more with less.

…The community on the whole has also spoken quite loudly: Pay attention to the user base. Users are not simply a screaming mob. They are actually asking for reasonable support, and as moderators, we are trying very hard to do what we can to make those changes happen.

On Monday, Pao issued a mea culpa, saying Reddit “screwed up” and did not communicate changes at the service with its user base in advance.

Read the op-ed in full over at the New York Times.

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