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Reddit Moderators Are Fed Up: “I Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse”

"I am not proud to be a part of Reddit, or my contributions to Reddit, and I haven't been for years," one moderator told BuzzFeed News. Ellen Pao, meanwhile, apologized Friday over the recent "transition."

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Starting Thursday night, large sections of Reddit were set to private and have 'gone dark' in the wake of the termination of Victoria Taylor, a site employee and community moderator. In response, the site's devotees are now flocking to r/Subredditdrama, a community dedicated to discussing "internet fights and other dramatic happenings from other subreddits."

And traffic has exploded, according to one r/subredditdrama moderator. "Our traffic stats indicate that SRD is on track to easily beat the amount of traffic from /r/FatPeopleHate’s banishment," the moderator told BuzzFeed News. "We got a ton of new subscribers who wanted to watch this drama as it unfolded. Some of that drama unfolded in SRD itself, because /u/kn0thing (Alexis Ohanian, the co-founder and Executive Chairman of Reddit) and /u/ekjp (Ellen Pao, the CEO of Reddit) made some comments." Below is Ohanian's comment:

Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian last night in response to the drama surrounding r/IAmA: "Popcorn tastes good."

Later, Ohanian retracted the comment:

Last night's protest, which has continued well into today, is the second in as many months. For many moderators, it's a sign that the relationship between Reddit's executive management and the community has reached a breaking point. Early this morning, stopscopiesme, the r/BestOf moderator, expressed his frustrations in a widely shared post:

As moderators, our frustration with reddit's management has been building over years. The moderation tools we are given are severely lacking in certain functionality, and much of what we do is cobbled together through hacks which may eventually be supported, or have their functionality broken entirely. We are given the responsibility of enforcing global rules lest our subreddits our banned. However, our tools are subpar, the rules are unclear and have varying interpretations, and our attempts to mail the admins for their help frequently go unanswered.

Many of us our losing faith in the ability of the management of reddit to understand us, communicate with us, and effectively run the company. We have been desperately appealing to admins for answers and often are ignored. Ellen Pao and Alexis Ohanian, (who as far as I can tell are in charge) have seemed especially poor at dealing with the community.

These frustrations also echo what prominent subreddit moderators told BuzzFeed News. When asked about the tensions between the community and management, a moderator pointed to an alleged post by a former Reddit employee and community manager who alleges Pao fired him after saying he would remain on staff while recovering from leukemia. "I thought it couldn’t get worse," he told BuzzFeed News.

A spokesperson for Pao denied the allegations Friday, telling BuzzFeed News "that claim is false."

In a statement issued to BuzzFeed News, Pao also apologized Friday for the way the "transition" involving Taylor's departure was handled.

I want to apologize for how we handled the transition yesterday. We should have informed the moderators earlier and provided more detail on the transition plan. We are working to make improvements and create the best experience for our users and we aren't always perfect. Our community is what makes reddit, reddit and we let you down yesterday.

When reached last month, one moderator lamented that "the community management side of Reddit has been poorly handled for a long time. The people who dealt directly with the community were not the people who seemed to be making policy decisions, and there were never enough community managers to answer user mails in a timely manner, if at all."

Reddit's management problems, especially its ability to provide its moderators with proper resources, has led to burnout among its most devoted volunteers. Last month, one well-known moderator told BuzzFeed News the current management climate creates a toxic relationship between users and moderators, which reflects poorly on the site as a whole. "Being a mod will make anyone hate reddit and reddit's users," he told BuzzFeed News.

"I am not proud to be a part of reddit, or my contributions to reddit, and I haven't been for years," he continued. "Most of the subreddits I moderate are unseemly. I understand that nothing I build here is actually meaningful or will last. I suppose in some internal way I care about doing things right, but I know that to the greater world what I do doesn't matter at all, and certainly doesn't look impressive," he said. "A lot of moderators are really bitter and jaded, but still put in a lot of effort to help their subreddits and make them better. It's hard to articulate why."

When asked if parent company Conde Nast has been in contact with Reddit about the recent problems the site's community has had with Reddit's executive management, Patricia Rockenwagner, senior vice president of corporate communications at Condé Nast, told BuzzFeed News that "Reddit is completely autonomous" and noted that "they're the only ones who can comment on this."

Reddit moderators Brian Lynch and Courtnie Swearingen wrote an OP-ED for the New York Times on Wednesday explaining why they went dark after the company fired Taylor. They wrote: “The issue goes beyond Reddit. We are concerned with what a move like this means for for-profit companies that depend on the free labor of volunteers — and whether they truly understand what makes an online community vibrant.”


Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.

Contact Charlie Warzel at charlie.warzel@buzzfeed.com.

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