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Reddit’s replacement mods may be putting its communities at risk

Reddit’s replacement mods may be putting its communities at risk

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With institutional knowledge seeping out of the site, poor moderation could have real-world impacts as more misinformation is allowed to stay up on the site.

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Image by Alex Castro / The Verge

Reddit’s moderator purge could have real impacts on reliability and information safety as it rushes to replace mods with inexperienced, poorly vetted volunteers, according to Ars Technica. With testimony by both expelled former moderators and some of those who replaced them, Ars Technica’s report shows the trouble with the company’s push to quickly replace the mods who sent their subreddits dark, marked them NSFW, or turned them into jokey John Oliver fan forums earlier this year.

Reddit began removing protesting moderators in June and said it would continue doing so until morale improves unless subreddits opened back up. Since then, Reddit has been trying to replace those it’s expelled.

The Ars Technica piece lists several examples illustrating how this could be problematic. There’s a canning recipe that’s been allowed to stay up despite the potential to make people sick. A moderator with zero 3D-printing experience joined as a “joke” to replace a mod whose expertise included identifying functional gun printing recipes. A new home automation moderator insists expert knowledge is unnecessary in a subreddit where bad advice can lead to electrocution or compromised cybersecurity.

All of Reddit’s changes have come as the company has pursued an IPO but hasn’t managed to reach the profitability it needs to entice investors. CEO Steve Huffman, perhaps seeing Elon Musk’s destruction of third-party API access on Twitter (now called X), introduced API pricing that many developers found untenable. He similarly blamed his actions on AI data scraping, leading to a massive user revolt. But the company’s aggressive moves to crush the biggest protest in site history could potentially ruin what made the site such a popular and expansive self-moderated repository of advice and information.

Fired mods who spoke with Ars Technica reportedly were uninterested in passing on their knowledge and experience to their replacements, while insufficient mod tools, once helped by now-dead third-party apps, mean even experienced still-volunteering mods may have trouble managing their communities. Both factors leave mods new and old with a tough row to hoe moving forward.

Stevie Chancellor, a computer science and engineering professor from the University of Minnesota, is quoted as saying she was concerned that mods wouldn’t be able to stop malicious users from encouraging people in mental health support forums “to hurt themselves for their own perverted desires.”