Reddit is in meltdown.
The hugely popular link-sharing site is in a state of virtual lockdown after the volunteers who run some of the site’s biggest communities (known as “subreddits”) went on the digital equivalent of a general strike. This followed the sacking of Victoria Taylor, a popular site admin, after a Reddit Q&A with the Rev. Jesse Jackson went badly for the activist preacher.
High-traffic subreddits dedicated to movies, gaming, videos, history, science and art have been voluntarily locked by their moderators as an act of protest against the decision, which they saw as a symptom of an increasingly overbearing management that takes its users and volunteer moderators for granted.
The collective shutdown has rendered Reddit virtually unusable. In the space of a single evening, over 100 subreddits with tens of millions of subscribers have gone dark. Users are now flocking to Reddit’s competitors, such as Frizbee and Voat, the latter of which is struggling to accommodate its latest spike in traffic.
This is not the first time Reddit has seen a revolt against its management. Around mid-June, users waged a week-long rebellion against the site management after Reddit shut down a number of “politically incorrect” subreddits. But this is the first time that so many big moderators have simultaneously shut down their subreddits.
It’s another blow for interim Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, with users dubbing her “Chairman Pao” ever since the June crackdown.
The current revolt was triggered by the sacking of Victoria Taylor, a veteran administrator on the site who specialized in arranging high-profile Reddit Q&As, known as “Ask Me Anything” or “AMA” sessions. Ask Me Anythings are probably Reddit’s best-known feature and are known for featuring world-famous guests including Barack Obama, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Julian Assange.
Victoria Taylor was reportedly instrumental in securing guests and helping to organise AMA sessions across a variety of large subreddits. Her removal triggered outrage among moderators, who deemed her to be indispensable to the community. One key moderator said the site management had “pulled the rug out from under them.”
Moderators are particularly angry at the suddenness of Taylor’s sacking, which came without warning or communication with the community. So far, users are still in the dark as to why Taylor was removed.
One theory which is gaining an increasing amount of traction, however, is that Taylor is being held responsible for the embarrassment of Reverend Jesse Jackson in his recent AMA session.
As the Daily Caller reported:
The Reverend Jesse Jackson hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) Wednesday on Reddit that did not go as planned, as users hit him with hard questions.
The top question stated that he is, “an immoral, hate-filled race baiter that has figured out how to manipulate the political system for your own gain.”
Jackson’s answers then became confusing and evasive:
When asked, “What are some things that the average African-American can do to help reduce racial tensions in his area?”
Jackson wrote, “Well, the source of those tensions often come from denial of an even playing field. You know, we are very good at athletics.”
It’s safe to say that the AMA did not go well for Jackson. In the full discussion, which can be viewed here, Jackson’s answers to Redditors often take on the appearance of a string of talking points that have no relation to the questions being asked. Perhaps the questions were being answered by an intern with a list of stock lines? Who knows.
It’s easy to see why some believe that Jackson’s appalling AMA performance may have had something to do with Taylor’s removal. Moderators are often held responsible for not doing enough to filter questions on AMAs, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the activist preacher complained to Reddit.
The influence of radical identity politics over Silicon Valley executives like the ones who run Reddit should not be underestimated, of course — Ellen Pao is notorious for her opportunistic use of discrimination law, while interim Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey attended last year’s protests in Ferguson. In Silicon Valley, someone like Jesse Jackson is akin to a deity.
That said, the idea that Jesse Jackson’s AMA was the pebble that started the recent avalanche at Reddit remains only a theory. Although there is some evidence pointing in its direction (such as the banning of the Redditor who asked Jackson the toughest questions), there is no way of knowing for sure until either Reddit or Ms. Taylor release a statement.
And that in itself represents a persistent problem for Reddit. As one of the rebel moderators highlighted, communication between the site management and the site community had been deteriorating for some time. The fact that no-one outside the site administration knows why Taylor was suspended is further poof.
Although the last “Reddit Revolt” faded, it is increasingly clear that the relationship between Reddit’s leadership (in particular CEO Ellen Pao) and Reddit’s base of users and moderators is no longer sustainable. At the moment, it seems Reddit’s only salvation is Voat’s inability to handle high-volume traffic. That’s not a good situation to be in.
Follow Allum Bokhari @LibertarianBlue on Twitter.