The “front page of the Internet” has had a rough time the last several months, but perhaps none more so than last week. Following the unexpected termination of one of the site’s most popular admins, many of the Reddit communities (also known as “subreddits”) shut down in protest, thereby closing off some of the most high-traffic parts of the site and driving users to seek alternatives.
The admin in question is one Victoria Taylor, who coordinated the Ask Me Anything (AMA) events that give users a chance to have Q&A sessions with popular figures such as celebrities and politicians, which has even included President Obama in the past. She also took charge of verifying that the people answering questions were the actual VIPs, not someone pretending to be them. Dumping such a well-liked and integral part of the AMA series infuriated the site’s moderators, who were left with no explanation for her sacking or any plan to replace her.
Today interim CEO Ellen Pao issued an apology to Reddit users and moderators for not communicating the changes they are attempting to make well enough.
We screwed up. Not just on July 2, but also over 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.
Today, we acknowledge this long history of mistakes. We are grateful for all you do for reddit, and the buck stops with me.
She goes on to explain some new tools they will put in place to assist them in communicating with the moderators to avoid such issues in the future, even though she admits “I don’t have all the answers, and it will take time for us to deliver concrete results.” Meanwhile a change.org petition calling for her to step down from her position reached over 150,000 signatures.
Absent an official reason for Taylor’s firing, some have begun to speculate that it was a reprisal for an AMA event with Rev. Jesse Jackson wherein he faced accusations of race baiting and appeared to dodge questions on improving race relations. There’s no particular evidence to support that claim, though getting rid of someone who allowed a social justice hero like Jesse Jackson to get hit with such tough questions would fit with the new direction Pao and her team have decided to take the site.
As she told NPR, Reddit will no longer be a “completely free-speech platform”, which they demonstrated in June when they shut down a number of subreddits they felt contributed to harassment of certain demographics, such as overweight individuals. That event earned her the nickname “Chairman Pao” within the Reddit community and a week of angry posts.
More communication may make these rulings from on high less surprising, but censorship is censorship. Even if the unpaid moderators of these subreddits get a better heads up when the admins alter the rules to take out whatever particular topic offends them that day, it’s not going to stop the site’s patrons from leaving to find places that don’t feel compelled to police their speech.
Like Bruce talked about earlier, the Left has thrown all caution to the wind and in the process made enemies of groups that in the past might have at the very least been indifferent to their attempts to bend the culture to their will. The gamers marching under the #GamerGate banner no doubt represent the prime example, and if they and the redditors are any indication of which way the wind will blow in the future, those who seek to control others’ thoughts are in for more unpleasant surprises.