Reddit, the collector of Internet ephemera and petri dish of memes, is in full meltdown mode.
The self-proclaimed homepage of the Internet devolved into chaos in the aftermath of the dismissal of a well-liked and high-ranking employee. Hundreds of sections, a.k.a. subreddits, fell offline as the site’s moderators and users protested the departure of Victoria Taylor, who was in charge of Reddit’s popular Ask Me Anything area.
So, if you spent the weekend watching real fireworks going off and not the ones happening on Reddit, let’s quickly explain what the hell happened.
First things first, what triggered Reddit’s meltdown?
Taylor, Reddit’s director of talent, was fired for reasons unknown on Thursday. She was well liked among the site’s users and spearheaded one of the few redeemable parts of Reddit: its Ask Me Anything (/r/iAMA) subreddit, which attracted famous question-and-answer sessions, including President Barack Obama. Unlike others in the company, Taylor was praised for actually “giving a shit” about its users, as Gawker succinctly puts it.
Moderators, who work on a volunteer basis, were less than thrilled about how shady Reddit’s top brass was about Taylor’s dismissal. One mod praised Taylor as an “essential lifeline of communication” and said the dismissal “blindsided” them. Ruh-ro.
Was there any reason as to why someone so well-liked was canned?
Not really, as neither side has publicly commented. Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian tried his best at doing damage control by explaining that Reddit is “phasing out our role being in-between interesting people and the Reddit audience so that we can focus on helping remarkable people become Redditors, not just stop by on a press tour.”
Of course, without a definite explanation, we’ll never know but it sounds like Taylor was pushed out because her role of organizing the AMAs will soon no longer be needed.
Which subreddits disappeared?
Nearly 300 communities went private for much of Friday and Saturday, ranging from the major ones like r/science and r/art to topics that make Reddit, well, Reddit like r/cameltoe and r/breastenvy.
Wait, camel toe?
Yep! Reddit has long history of housing questionable subreddits, including ones that center around disgusting topics like child pornography or becoming a safe space for trolls, notably Violentacrez. Management has been hands off, claiming that its censoring these subreddits would violate free speech.
But interim CEO Ellen Pao is starting to place a tighter lid on what subreddits exist, saying “it’s not our site’s goal to be a completely free-speech platform,” adding that it wants to be “safe.” Yet, r/cameltoe still exists.
Who is Ellen Pao and why is she so hated?
Ah, she’s the interim CEO that has a lower favorability rating that George W. Bush, it appears. Users have taken to derisively referring to her as “Chairman Pao.”
She also tried doing her own course of damage control on Saturday, writing that it should’ve done a better job informing moderators of events like this. “We do value moderators; they allow reddit to function and they allow each subreddit to be unique and to appeal to different communities,” she wrote on Reddit.
That mea culpa wasn’t enough to calm down Reddit users. A Change.org petition calling on Pao to resign collected 187,000 signatures, claiming she “overstepped her boundaries and fears that she will run Reddit into the ground.”
Good Lord, this seems less like a company and more like an anarchist collective.
It’s not the greatest place to be an employee at considering that some of the users don’t make it so. Reddit is trying to maintain its motto as being “the front page of the Internet,” so weird subreddits and user feedback are an essential ingredient. And when you tinker with it too much (hence why they layout doesn’t look too different from when it first launched), a collapse of Digg-proportions could happen. So, Reddit is stuck in this weird place of being hands off and hands on until we all die.
Daaaaaaaamn. Is that going to work?
Probably not, but it’s anyones guess. It would be silly for her to resign under pressure from misogynistic and racist threats just because of this. In another apology, posted Monday, Pao admitted that Reddit “screwed up,” not just last Thursday but for the “past several years.”
We haven’t communicated well, and we have surprised moderators and the community with big changes. We have apologized and made promises to you, the moderators and the community, over many years, but time and again, we haven’t delivered on them. When you’ve had feedback or requests, we haven’t always been responsive. The mods and the community have lost trust in me and in us, the administrators of reddit.
To fix its errors, Pao said will help build better tools for moderators, improve communication and a better search function, which is probably the biggest improvement out of this to be honest.
Pao’s apology isn’t going to be a much-needed panacea for the Reddit revolt. Moderators and users still think Reddit management could work on their communication skills with them, so Pao’s best hope at salvaging this is leading by example.
Photo via Wikimedia