Two of the volunteer moderators who helped instigate the huge protests that shook Reddit late last week have written an op-ed for the New York Times, explaining why they took their community offline, shedding new light on the events running up to the protests, and slamming Reddit’s management for its approach to the community.
Brian Lynch and Courtnie Swearingen are both moderators for r/IAmA — an extremely popular subreddit (a user-created community) on the site dedicated to public Q&A sessions with interesting or famous people. On Thursday last week, Victoria Taylor, a popular Reddit staff member responsible for helping coordinate the AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) sessions, was abruptly dismissed. In response, r/IAmA went offline for 24 hours to figure out how to move forward — prompting hundreds more of Reddit’s most popular subreddits, many with millions of members, to do likewise in solidarity.
Writing in the Times, the pair explain that Taylor’s dismissal was a total shock. “Someone who was scheduled to conduct an A.M.A. flew to New York to visit the Reddit office and discovered a canceled appointment and no backup support. Our team got a panicked message — and we had no real idea what was going on.”
As such, they took the community offline to formulate a response — “because IAmA is constantly watched by the Reddit community as well as the news media, we as moderators determined that the best course of action was to figure out how to proceed in private.”
They go on to say that they didn’t anticipate other subreddits also closing their doors in solidarity, but that “the support was overwhelming and echoed the sentiment our shutdown illustrated — anger at the way the company routinely demands that the volunteers and community accept major changes that reduce our efficiency and increase our workload.”
This gets to the heart of what the protests were all about: While Taylor’s dismissal was the catalyst that sparked them, discontent had been brewing for a long time. Moderators, none of whom are paid for helping to run Reddit, feel they are unsupported by the for-profit company’s staff. “This reaction is not all a result of [Taylor’s] departure,” wrote moderator Gilgamesh- — “there is a feeling among many of the moderators of reddit that the admins do not respect the work that is put in by the thousands of unpaid volunteers.”
As Lynch and Swearingen put it: “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.”
What’s next for r/IAmA? The moderators say the community “built our policies and procedures around having a professional partner at the company to substantiate, facilitate and respond to queries in a timely manner … Now we are having to work around the lack of these resources, with a continued expectation of success.” They call on the site to “[recruit] someone with the talent and necessary background to fill her position in a similar capacity.”
Reddit, for its part, has apologised, with CEO Ellen Pao acknowledging: “We screwed up.” (Taylor hasn’t been offered her job back, however.) Reddit is now promising stronger tools and support for moderators to help them manage their communities more effectively.
And Victoria Taylor? She has finally broken her silence in a post to the r/Self subreddit. While she doesn’t shed any more light on the exact reasons for her departure from the company, she does thank the community for their support. “I know many of you may be curious about what’s next for me, and I’m still figuring that out,” she goes on “However, I can assure you,
wherever the road leads, I will live up to the faith you’ve had in me.”
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