The mods who rocked Reddit on its most chaotic day have spoken out in a New York Times op-ed in an attempt to explain why they shut down the site’s “Ask Me Anything” forum in the wake of coordinator Victoria Taylor’s sudden firing.
The Times isn’t the first place you’d expect a Redditor to be published—GIF & Fedora or White Men Quarterly would be a more natural fit—but the “Ask Me Anything” subreddit isn’t a typical section of the enormous, Conde Nast-affiliated site. AmAs have become an internet and media sensation, attracting the likes of both Channing Tatum and Barack Obama with equal success. So why did moderators Brian Lynch and Courtnie Swearingen shutter the best positive example of what Reddit’s capable of? In their own words:
Our primary concern, and reason for taking the site down temporarily, is that Reddit’s management made critical changes to a very popular website without any apparent care for how those changes might affect their biggest resource: the community and the moderators that help tend the subreddits that constitute the site. Moderators commit their time to the site to foster engaging communities. 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.
As reported before, it was to protest the firing of Reddit’s community liaison, Victoria Taylor:
We received news of Ms. Taylor’s termination in a chaotic way: 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.
The pair adds that this wasn’t intended to ripple through Reddit, but that it let loose the pent-up angst of the whole community:
However, 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.
The secondary purpose of shutting down was to communicate to the relatively tone-deaf company leaders that the pattern of removing tools and failing to improve available tools to the community at large, not merely the moderators, was an affront to the people who use the site.
But what else is new? Redditors have always hated Reddit as much as they’ve loved it, and can barely hide their excitement when they’re given an opportunity to rail against Ellen Pao, the company’s CEO and unfortunate trifecta-winner of woman, minority, and gender discrimination icon.
The tension that’s actually interesting here is, as the mods put it, “what a move like this means for for-profit companies that depend on the free labor of volunteers.” You can treat your employees like shit, because they’re at least being paid to eat shit. But Reddit is an enormous media property that’s banked tens of millions of dollars in venture capital funding. Relying on unpaid volunteers to keep the lights on isn’t just a bad look, it’s very clearly bad business.