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Reddit's most powerful members are holding the site hostage

Reddit's most powerful members are holding the site hostage

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Reddit moderators have shut down several of the site's most popular sections in response to the company's dismissal of Victoria Taylor. Acting as the main facilitator for its "Ask Me Anything" question-and-answer sessions, Taylor was one of Reddit's most visible employees when she was fired, a corporate decision that moderators say will make securing and executing the site's signature AMAs much more difficult. In addition to the r/IAmA subreddit, huge default subreddits that appear on the site's frontpage have temporarily switched to private mode, including r/videos, r/gaming, r/AskReddit, r/science, r/history, and r/movies.

Victoria Taylor was key in coordinating Reddit's AMAs

Taylor, who joined the company in 2013 as its director of communications, was point-of-contact for many of the site's celebrity AMA sessions, relaying questions over the phone to high-profile figures and transcribing their responses. Her sudden departure, moderators say, leaves them unable to effectively set up and run AMA sessions. "I am the mod in /r/science that organizes all of the science AMAs," user "nallen" writes, "and I am going to have meaningful problems in the /r/Science AMAs; Victoria was the only line of communication with the admins. If someone wants to get analytics for an AMA the answer will be 'sorry, I can't help'." In some cases, AMAs have already been scheduled, but moderators now have no way of liaising with the people due to answer questions. "This seems to be a seriously stupid decision," r/books moderator "imakuram" says. "We have several AMAs upcoming in /r/books and have no idea how to contact the authors."

AMA sessions are the jewel in Reddit's crown. The interviews are conducted with individuals and groups from all walks of life, from presidents, to pop stars, to people with two penises, and act as a carrot to attract people who might otherwise by put off by the site's insular in-jokes and questionable subcultures. Without Taylor to act as a buffer, sifting through questions and writing up replies as they were originally stated, it's easy to imagine AMAs in which PR teams can cherry-pick questions and mete out bland responses. AMAs done right make notable figures appear personable; done badly, they can shred a public image. You only need to look at Woody Harrelson's disastrous Rampart-focused interview to see how a badly handled AMA can hurt a celebrity's stock.

Moderators say they can't get in touch with celebrities with Taylor gone

Reddit users speculate that it may have been one such AMA — yesterday's session with Reverend Jesse Jackson — that inspired Reddit to cut ties with Taylor. Jackson faced a barrage of hostile questions in the ill-fated AMA, answering several with confusing replies that led some to believe he was only being fed a portion of the original text. Reddit has not explained why it decided to terminate Taylor, and while she is still active on the site, Taylor herself has not directly broached the topic.

Reddit has not explained why it sacked Taylor

While Taylor's dismissal is a catalyst for the decision to make prominent subreddits private, moderators say that there has been a long-running feeling among their number that Reddit does not value their work or communicate effectively. "Dropping this on all of us in the AMA sphere feels like an enormous slap to those of us who put in massive amounts of time to bring quality content to reddit," r/science mod "nallen" writes. The moderators of r/AskReddit — a default subreddit with 8 million subscribers — also hint that the fact Reddit didn't consult or warn them about Taylor's dismissal, rather than the dismissal itself, was the key factor in making it private. "As a statement on the treatment of moderators by Reddit administrators," a note on the subreddit currently reads, "as well as a lack of communication and proper moderation tools, /r/AskReddit has decided to go private for the time being."

In the r/OutOfTheLoop subreddit, a place for people to catch up on the fast-moving memes and news of Reddit itself, moderator Gilgamesh explains the view of fellow mods.

As much as Victoria is loved, this reaction is not all a result of her departure: 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 who maintain the communities of the 9,656 active subreddits, which they feel is expressed by, among other things, the lack of communication between them and the admins, and their disregard of the thousands of mods who keep reddit's communities going.

Others have used the news as just another stick with which to beat the company. Last month, Reddit cracked down on anti-social online behavior, introducing new anti-harassment rules and closing a series of offensive subreddits. Some users complained that the decision infringed on their free speech, targeting current CEO Ellen Pao in particular as the bringer of change, and the root cause for Reddit's "decline."

Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian has already attempted to placate the angry masses after news of the alleged dismissal broke, using the r/OutOfTheLoop subreddit to say that as r/IAmA thrived before Taylor's arrival, it will thrive after. But the damage is already done. While Taylor's duties might be picked up by another Reddit staff member without much of a break in normal AMA service, by firing one of its most visible and well-liked employees, Reddit has made a rod for its own back — not the best idea at a time when it's already under sustained attack.

Update July 3rd, 6:20AM ET: Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian has apologized to the Reddit community and promised that the site's staff will "continue to work through these issues." In a post left on subreddits including r/defaultmods and r/modtalk, Ohanian said that his immediate concern was getting blacked out portions of the site back online. "Redditors don’t deserve to be punished any further over an issue that is ultimately between Reddit and the moderators," he writes, adding that Reddit will "continue to dedicate resources to AMAs" but that the "process won't be perfect overnight."

Update July 3rd, 11:25AM ET: Reddit CEO Ellen Pao added her thoughts later in the morning, writing that Reddit is working on better tools for moderators, but that they aren't yet ready. "The bigger problem is that we haven't helped our moderators with better support after many years of promising to do so," Pao writes. She says that Reddit has made a number of hires to build new tools and make changes to the site. It's not clear if that's what Reddit's community wants to hear, but it suggests that some help is coming down the road. "We are going to figure this out and fix it," Pao writes.