Unless you were extremely busy during the three-day Fourth of July weekend, you might have noticed that most of the biggest subreddits on Reddit were made private, leaving many users wondering as to what happened to some of the most popular pages on Reddit. The event, which some in the community called "AMAgeddon," seems to be over for the most part, with a few smoldering fires remaining, most recently with an apology from interim CEO Ellen Pao. If you haven't been following from the start, here's a recap of what happened.
Ask Me Anything
Reddit is known for many things, one of which is its subreddit, r/IAmA, or Ask Me Anything. It's been a place where celebrities, famous scientists and groups, and even President Obama, are subjected to a series of questions from any user in the community. In order to verify the identity of the person answering the questions, the subreddit has a group of moderators to aid in the verification process, but Reddit also has its own staff member to handle some of the more prolific guests on r/IAmA personally.
Victoria Taylor, who joined the company in 2013, held the position of director of talent. She was the conduit for a few celebrity guests. She would read a user's question to a celebrity, they would answer, and then she would write down what they said. She was a vital tool in establishing proof of the person answering the questions.
Taylor was also a direct line of help for the mods of r/IAmA (and many other subreddits) who could easily get her attention for any problem during an interview and have it fixed. She was the only source of contact for the site's administrators. Without her, mods would be overwhelmed with the amount of work needed to keep their respective subreddits in top shape.
It all came to a head last week when Taylor was unexpectedly released from her position. As a result, the r/IAmA subreddit was immediately switched to private access so that its mods could confer about how to go about AMAs without Taylor's help, but the damage was already done to the mods. They were not notified of her release ahead of time, leaving them blindsided. Instead of calmly addressing the issue and figuring out a game plan, moderators were scrambling to fix issues that could potentially arise in the future without Taylor's help.
It was at this point that multiple subreddits also started switching their pages to private access. Taylor's dismissal was the last straw in a series of conflicts between site administrators and subreddit moderators, most notably around the fact that the admins don't have a great track record in communicating with mods. One mod mentioned that Taylor was not only the sole source of communication with admins, but without her around, a typical response from any other admin would be "Sorry, I can't help."
Other issues between the two groups include the lack of concern over the site's moderation tools. Instead of using the programs and software created by the administrators, mods had to install a third-party program to help moderate their subreddits because the apps provided by Reddit were not as effective. There was also a lack of responses from admins regarding the new search interface, which many users disliked. They made their responses known via r/changelog, another subreddit dedicated to tracking the constant changes made to the site.
Reddit's co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, eventually took to a subreddit, r/subredditdrama, and wrote "Popcorn tastes good," implying that the entire thing was blown out of proportion and that it was a minor issue. He eventually added an edit to the comment apologizing for his remarks, saying that he didn't know just how angry the community was at the entire situation.
He then reached out to mods via the r/defaultmods page and apologized for the lack of communication. Ohanian also added that the "message was received loud and clear," and asked for the blackout on subreddits to be lifted. He also put together a short-term plan to fix the relationship, including the addition of a single administrator to handle issues within the mod community as well as adding more resources for future AMAs to alleviate the burden of work from moderators.
Finally, he also briefly discussed Taylor leaving and apologized via Upvoted Weekly, the site's official newsletter.
"I can't publicly comment on why we made this decision, but I can talk about the way we handled it—we screwed up. Victoria worked extensively with the moderator teams in r/IAMA, r/books, r/science, and more to make sure AMAs went smoothly, and when she left, we didn't have a great process in place to handle that transition and didn't communicate it to those mods very well."
It's Not Over
Eventually, the subreddits started to resume regular operations over the holiday weekend, but there are still some lingering effects from the incident.
A user named David A. Croach, known on the site as Dacvak, was Reddit's former Community Manager. In a recent AMA, he revealed that he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012, and former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong and general manager Erik Martin allowed Croach to keep his job and pay him until he was healthy enough to return to work. Croach was eventually cured, but then the leukemia returned a year later.
By late 2014, Croach was ready to work again, and at the same time, the company mandated that all of its employees had to move to San Francisco to work at the new headquarters. He wasn't ready to move until two to three months into 2015, as he told Pao. At the time, Croach said Pao was fine with the timetable. However, she called him in February and told him his position was terminated because he was deemed "too sick to properly fulfill your duties as Community Manager," even though he told her that the position would be easy to manage despite the concerns of stress involved with the job.
Needless to say, this revelation shocked the community to the point where users are signing a petition to remove Pao from her position. The petition was started a month ago and requires 200,000 signatures. At the time of this writing, it has over 188,000 signatures. Three weeks ago, it had barely more than 10,000 signees. The 100,000 mark was reached on July 4, and the 150,000 mark was easily passed on July 5.
Pao herself made an apology to the community on July 6, acknowledging the long history of the lack of communications between mods and admins. She stated that the "buck stops with me," and reiterated Ohanian's steps to rectify mistakes.
Lessons To Be Learned
Reddit didn't discuss the reason for Taylor's termination, and it will be a while until we find out the real reason, but the site that calls itself the "Front Page of the Internet" will need some time to get back to the same level of operations before she left.
The steps taken by both Ohanian and Pao show that it only thrives if moderators, who maintain their favorite subreddits without any compensation, are not only given the tools they need to function properly, but are also provided a direct and helpful line of communication to the site's administrators to help deter incidents as they happen on the site.
Update, 7/6/2015, 10:10am PDT: The petition calling for Pao to step down from her position at Reddit surpassed 200,000 signatures five hours ago. There is now a new goal of 300,000 signatures with the current tally of 206,333. If the goal is reached, another goal will be placed until Reddit responds to the petition.
Update, 7/10/2015, 3:00pm PDT: Ellen Pao resigned from her position as CEO, according to a post from Reddit board member Sam Altman. Steve Huffman, co-founder of Reddit as well as the site's first CEO, will reprise his role. However, Pao will remain as an advisor to the board until the end of the year.