Brian Lynch and Courtnie Swearingen, two attorneys and Reddit moderators for the popular subreddit r/iAmA, released an op-ed today in the New York Times that catalogued the frustrations that led to the blackout on the subreddit — and later, much of the website — nearly a week ago, when the company abruptly fired talent director Victoria Taylor, also known as /u/chooter.
“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,” they wrote.
According to the pair, which in turn cite company statistics, the r/iAmA alone receives more than 8.5 million subscribers and between 20 and 30 million page views per month — largely fueled by its successful discussions with luminaries like Bill Gates and Barack Obama. Lynch and Swearingen both started contributing as moderators while still students, and now spend free minutes away from their full-time jobs moderating the site.
That work is in high volume, but the moderators built their system with Taylor in mind — relying on an in-house person to help facilitate logistics between the subjects and the moderators. However, when they found out Taylor had been fired through someone who had been scheduled for an AMA, they temporarily closed the subreddit to figure out how to go on without her. That’s when they were surprised by the response from the wider Reddit community.
[T]he 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.
Lynch and Swearingen also refute Reddit CEO Ellen Pao’s claims that the shutdown boiled down to a “miscommunication” between moderators and Reddit corporate. Rather, it’s the unilateral decision-making Reddit without consulting the moderators. They believe that Reddit doesn’t take into account the resources moderators need to run their thousands-strong subreddits efficiently.
Miscommunication implies there was any communication at all or any kind of real planning in place to compensate for the loss, when in reality the moderators and A.M.A. guests were left stranded.
Even though subreddits are no longer dark in protest of Taylor’s dismissal, Reddit has neither given reasoning for why she was fired nor answers for how moderators should continue to work in their position. That continues to leave both Lynch and Swearingen uneasy, as Reddit continues to be a corporate structure grafted onto a community.
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.
➤ Why We Shut Down Reddit’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ Forum [New York Times]