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​Reddit goes dark for a day after moderators' revolt

Reddit fired a popular employee - and its volunteer staff of community administrators took down popular sub-reddit groups in protest. Now, management is trying to make peace with the rebel moderators.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Reddit, with over 7.5-billion page views per month, is the U.S.' tenth most popular website. The giant website's day-to-day operations are in the hands of several thousand volunteers who moderate the hundreds of thousands of communities (subreddits). Those moderators are mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. So, in a spontaneous revolt, they closed down some of the most popular Reddit groups.

For almost a day, you couldn't reach the most popular Reddit sub-sites.
What sparked this explosion was when Reddit allegedly fired Victoria Taylor, known on Reddit as chooter. Taylor had been Reddit's director of communications and the primary co-coordinator of one of Reddit's most popular communities, IAmA (Ask Me Anything). In IAmA, everyone from a Taco Bell manager to Star Trek's Michael Dorn to President Obama has answered questions in online interviews.

In this essential role, Taylor worked with the moderators of many other popular sub-reddits. Her removal left many of these groups at a loss. Nallen, lead moderator of /r/science, wrote, "Victoria was the only line of communication with the admins. If someone wants to get analytics for an AMA [Ask Me Anything] the answer will be, 'Sorry, I can't help.'" As another example of how important Taylor's role was to the Reddit moderators, /r/books' imakuram wrote, "We have several AMAs upcoming in /r/books and have no idea how to contact the authors."

The black-powder of resentment towards Reddit's administration had been building for some time. As the rebelling moderators wrote, they also are blocking readers from their groups because of the "underlying resentment against the admins for running the site poorly - being uncommunicative, and disregarding the thousands of moderators who keep the site running."

The result was that many of Reddit's most popular groups, such as /r/funny, /r/Books, /r/science, /r/Music, /r/gaming, /r/history, /r/Art,/r/videos, /r/gadgets, and /r/movies were closed to all but moderators and trusted users for about 24-hours. Were you to go to these sites, all you would find is a message saying that the subreddit is private.

In addition, while Taylor's story fueled the rebellion's fire, she was not the only top level Reddit staffer to be fired. Reddit's senior VP of product, Dan McComas, announced in shock on Twitter that he had been let go. Reddit's e-mail reply on why Taylor and McComas were no longer with Reddit and if other staffers had been left go was, "We don't comment on any individual employee matters."

These moves come only eight months after the Reddit CEO, Yishan Wong, resigned. He was replaced by Ellen Pao as interim CEO. Pao is still the CEO at this time. McComas was also hired then.

Reddit's management has responded to the crisis, which started at 1 PM Eastern time on July 2.

Alexis Ohanian, Reddit's co-founder and executive chair, wrote, "I'm sorry for how we handled communicating change to the AMA team." Ohanian did not address why Taylor had been let go.

Taylor, herself, has not responded to a ZDNet request to tell her side of the story. She did tell the BBC that she was "dazed" by how quickly she had been laid-off.

Ohanian went on, "Get the blacked out subreddits back online." He continued, "Your message was received loud and clear. The communication between Reddit and the moderators needs to improve dramatically. We will work closely with you all going forward to ensure events like today['s] don't happen again. At this point, however, the blackout has served its purpose, and now it's time to get Reddit functioning again. I know many of you are still upset. We will continue to work through these issues with you all, but redditors don't deserve to be punished any further over an issue that is ultimately between Reddit and the moderators."

In this, Ohanian has been successful. Most of the subreddits are now alive again. But trouble is still brewing.

The IAmA moderators wrote, "We have taken the day to try to understand how Reddit will seek to replace Victoria, and have unfortunately come to the conclusion that they do not have a plan that we can put our trust in. The admins have refused to provide essential information about arranging and scheduling AMAs with their new 'team.' This does not bode well for future communication between us, and we cannot be sure that everything is being arranged honestly and in accordance with our rules."

Specifically, the volunteer IAmA moderators suspect that Reddit is accepting money from people wishing to appear on IAmA interviews. Going forward, the IAmA moderators will work with other subreddit moderators to set up IAmA productions, but they "will no longer be working with the admins to put together AMAs."

Ohanian also wants to "work out a plan for going forward" with the volunteer moderators. Until there's trust between Reddit's executives and its largely unpaid volunteer moderators it doesn't seem likely that much progress can be made.

In another post, Ohanian admitted, "I was stupid. I'm sorry for that. Believe me, I know I owe everything to millions of random strangers on the internet and a few key people along the way who believed in me and took a chance on me. We've got a lot of work to do and we can't fix it overnight, but we know we have to fix it long-term."

For now, Reddit is functional once more. How long it will stay that way remains an unanswerable question.

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