Two moderators of Reddit's popular Ask Me Anything subreddit have taken to The New York Times to explain a shutdown that sparked a nearly site-wide blackout last week. Brian Lynch and Courtnie Swearingen, a pair of attorneys who manage r/IAmA in their spare time, have previously said that they took the subreddit offline after the abrupt firing of employee Victoria Taylor. Taylor acted as a liaison between Reddit's volunteer moderators and the paid administrators, which included helping coordinate high-profile AMA visits — President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and any number of celebrities have appeared on the site.
"Dismissing Victoria Taylor was part of a long pattern of insisting the community and the moderators do more with less."
"Moderators commit their time to the site to foster engaging communities," they reiterate in the Times. "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." But originally, they say, the shutdown was just a way to mitigate the chaos of Taylor's departure. "Someone who was scheduled to conduct an AMA flew to New York to visit the Reddit office and discovered a canceled appointment and no backup support," they write. "Our team got a panicked message — and we had no real idea what was going on." The piece doesn't, however, explain why Taylor was actually fired.
The two say they didn't expect other subreddits to follow suit, but the resulting boycott made Reddit's administrators take notice. Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao recently issued an apology, promising new tools for moderators and better communication. But part of the problem is that Reddit is a commercial enterprise that relies very heavily on unpaid labor and is pushing hard for profitability. As the site grows, that means less support for each moderator. "Dismissing Victoria Taylor was part of a long pattern of insisting the community and the moderators do more with less," write Lynch and Swearingen.
But if Reddit is big enough that a temporary shutdown is explained in the paper of record, it's hopefully big enough to reach a meaningful agreement with some of its most dedicated members.