With Reddit blackout, users revolt for second time this summer

In protest of the dismissal of Reddit's director of talent, the moderators of more than 200 'subreddit' groups turned them 'private,' leaving them inaccessible to the vast majority of the site’s users.

Eric Risberg/File/AP
Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao has come under intense criticism from users of the popular online forum, who protested administrative actions by putting the site on a blackout on Friday.

Over the weekend, visitors to the online forum site Reddit were greeted with the image of a locked door when they tried clicking on some of the most popular groups – or subreddits – on the site.

The moderators of the subreddits, who are volunteers, were taking part in a protest against the dismissal of the company's director of talent, Victoria Taylor. It represents the second major user uprising on the site in recent weeks. 

In her role at Reddit, Ms. Taylor functioned as a resource for the unpaid moderators and helped to facilitate the popular subreddit /r/IAmA, which has held public Q-and-A's with everyone from Snoop Dogg to President Obama.

In protest of Taylor’s dismissal, the moderators of more than 200 subreddit groups turned them “private,” leaving them inaccessible to the vast majority of the site’s users. For the most part, the blackout ended a few hours after it started.

Although the mutiny was sparked by news of Taylor's departure, discontent between the site’s moderators and administrators has been bubbling up for a while.

“As much as Victoria is loved, this reaction is not all a result of her departure: there is a feeling among many of the moderators of reddit that the admins do not respect the work that is put in by the thousands of unpaid volunteers who maintain the communities of the 9,656 active subreddits,” wrote /u/Gilgamesh- in a recap of the conflict.

Particular scorn has been directed at Reddit's interim CEO, Ellen Pao, under whose watch the site enacted an anti-harassment policy that users say have hampered free speech. The anti-harassment policy, which was implemented in May, resulted in the site being flooded with criticism and prompted an online petition in support of removing Ms. Pao.

Pao was in the headlines earlier this year over a high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit that she filed against her former employer, Kleiner Perkins, a venture capital firm.

Commenting on the current controversy, Pao said in an interview with The New York Times that the most virulent detractors on the site are a vocal minority and that most of Reddit users are uninterested in the drama that followed Taylor’s dismissal.

Still, Pao has been conciliatory after the intense backlash she received over her initial response to the blackout.  

"We rely heavily on the moderators, and we really depend on them. What we learned from this event is that we need to communicate better with them and that we don't take them for granted," she told NPR. "We are very much aligned in what we want. The question is just making sure we have a better relationship and closer coordination going forward."

Users have not been satisfied with her answers to their concerns, flooding the site with mocking posts and circulating the online petition urging Pao's removal, which has now garnered more than 150,000 signatures.

Reddit users have also been flocking to Voat.co, a similar forum site. But the competitor has been unable to handle the additional visitors and has been subject to frequent outages because of massive traffic spikes.

The Reddit blackout is also one way that users have protested against monetizing the site’s 7.5 billion monthly page views, instead wanting Reddit to stay solely user-focused. But an attempt at that, as Paul Tassi wrote for Forbes, could ultimately be harmful for Reddit.

“Redditors seem to want the site to operate as a non-profit, swatting down practically every monetization idea on the map. That’s their prerogative and very well may be a reason the site has grown so big, but at some point, it could all come tumbling down when there’s no one left to keep the lights on. In desperately trying to save the sanctity of their community at every turn, they could end up destroying it,” he wrote.

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