The Reddit Forum Furore Explained

Over the past few days, you may have heard about the self-imposed shutdown affecting the popular news and entertainment forum Reddit. Here's what you need to know.

At the heart of Reddit, one of the internet's most popular social news and discussion sites, is its users. Over 3.5 million of them keep 9,500 subreddits (communities or topics) fed with shared links and constant discussion moderated by an army of volunteers.

In a first for the site however, many of the main subreddits have been taken private and so effectively have blocked access to users, in a protest over the forced departure of Victoria Taylor, Reddit's Director of Communications. Taylor was responsible for coordinating one of the popular sections on the site in which guests are invited to answer user questions.

These "Ask Me Anything" or AMA sessions have included a range of celebrities including US President Barack Obama, astronauts Chris Hadfield and Buzz Aldrin, Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, Valve founder Gabe Newell and Jerry Seinfeld, to name but a few.

Although catalysed by the removal of Taylor, it seems that this latest move by "redditors" and their moderators is part of a background frustration with the management of Reddit who have been seen to be unresponsive to user needs and general feedback. Tensions flared after a number of subreddits were banned over harrassment concerns. Interim CEO Ellen Pao was widely held to be behind the move to clean up some of Reddit's more controversial areas, possibly in an attempt to make the platform more generally acceptable and in particular, less hostile to women.

As a result of the crackdown on the subreddits, thousands of users have moved over to a new Swiss clone of Reddit called Voat. The site couldn't cope with the huge increase in traffic and as even more users arrived after the latest shutdown, it has gone offline.

It would be easy to see the current Reddit drama as an example of the tension between unrestricted freedom of expression on the Internet and the attempt of others to keep that expression within a set of ever-changing bounds. But it is also about the tension between volunteers who expend a huge amount of their "cognitive surplus" and the organisations that ultimately benefit from this massive gift of time and effort.

The managers of Reddit seem to be currently struggling with both of these aspects at present. The banning of the five subreddits led to accusations of inconsistency and arbitrariness. As one person commented:

"Why isn't /r/shitredditsays banned. Why isn't any of the other disgusting subreddits that harass users every day banned. Why is subreddit after subreddit of /r/fatpeoplehate knock-offs and nothing but being banned."

With the removal of Victoria Taylor, Reddit management have ignored another fundamental rule of damage control which is to fully disclose what has happened and why. Worse, it seems that the former founder of Reddit and current Chairman, Alexis Ohanian has fanned the flames by posting a comment suggesting that he was amused by the reaction of redditors to the current situation.

Although Reddit management have not stated by Taylor was removed, it is possible that it was because she was unwilling to implement changes to the AMA format that she saw as being commercial and not in the spirit of the way that community was run.

Right now, the subreddits that have not been made private have turned their undivided attention to the current situation. The general dislike for CEO Ellen Pao and Alexis Ohanian has been made abundantly clear with petitions calling for Victoria Taylor to be reinstated and even for her to replace Ellen Pao as CEO.

Reddit votes for Victoria

In reality, users of Reddit don't really have anywhere else to go although in true Reddit style they are currently discussing the alternatives. The real danger is that the site atrophies as people decide not to volunteer so much time and effort into making it work. There has been no word also from Reddit's owners Advanced Publications as to what they currently think of the situation. Given that Ellen Pao is only an interim CEO, replacing her would seem like the smartest move. Keeping Ohanian from commenting, at least in any sort of official capacity at Reddit, could also help.

The ConversationDavid Glance is Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice at University of Western Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


Comments

    Reddit's management have demonstrated a lack of consultation with moderators and users, and a high level of arrogance. Ellen Pao is particularly unpopular. Ars Technica's continual biased reporting on her trial didn't help either. Ars continually made judgements of the company's guilt before the trial was completed. Even when the verdict was called, Ars insisted it was a setup and drove their own personal agenda. However, this prejudiced reporting had been consistent with Ars' biased reporting on many topics, which is why I left Ars and have no respect for it any longer.

    What does surprise me is that people are objecting to the moderation and closure of harassing and prejudiced threads on Reddit. If the closure of a thread is logical and consistent and a level playing field is applied to the closures, then there shouldn't be a problem.

    What I do see as a problem is that so many web sites and news sources are consistently prejudiced - and I put this down to political correctness. Maybe, just maybe, the Reddit backlash is frustration and anger at the inconsistency that media consistently applies.

    I'm a fan of Karl Popper. Don't tolerate the intolerant. As long as it's applied consistently (which it rarely is), i'm all for it.

    THIS IS SERIOUS MUM once said...

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    Every time you get a fright
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    Jesus stuck up for the meek
    Said "turn the other cheek"
    But that'll put you up shit creek
    Just spit the dummy

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