Following protests from longtime site users, Reddit chief executive Ellen Pao apologized this weekend for the company’s handling of their dismissal of director of talent Victoria Taylor.
“We screwed up. Not just on July 2, but also over the past several years,” Pao said Monday in a post on Reddit. “We haven’t communicated well, and we have surprised moderators and the community with big changes.”
Last Thursday, Taylor was let go from her post for unknown reasons. Reddit moderators were upset that Taylor left suddenly, without any moderators being told beforehand. This prompted many users to shut down, or “blackout,” their pages, shutting down almost 300 discussion areas, Time reported.
“We have apologized and made promises to you, the moderators and the community, over many years, but time and again, we haven’t delivered on them,” Pao said Monday. “When you’ve had feedback or requests, we haven’t always been responsive. The mods and the community have lost trust in me and in us, the administrators of reddit.”
One of Taylor’s jobs was facilitating the “Ask Me Anything” feeds, called AMA for short. Any moderator can host an AMA, but Taylor’s job was to manage the logistics for Q-and-A’s with larger names, such as President Obama.
Reddit is an open posting forum where users can start communities, called subreddits, and it’s home to pretty much anything you can find on the Internet. According to their Web site, Reddit has more than 8,300 active communities, ranging from the innocent — threads for exchanging recipes — to the inconceivable — the “pics of dead ponies” thread.
Moderators are able to organize subreddits that they control.
Pao said a new moderator advocate position will be introduced and announced improved tools for moderators. She told NPR on Sunday that moderators “should have been told earlier about the transition, and we should have provided more detail on the transition plan.”
It’s unclear why Taylor was let go; the company has not discussed the specifics publicly. Some Reddit users speculated that it had to do with last week’s AMA with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, which became hectic as users discussed racial issues. Alexis Ohanian, one of Reddit’s co-founders who has been communicating directly with users, told Time that the AMA had “nothing to do” with Taylor’s dismissal.
Moderators have expressed their frustration on the site since last week. User “karmanaut” wrote:
“The admins didn’t realize how much we rely on Victoria. Part of it is proof, of course: we know it’s legitimate when she’s sitting right there next to the person and can make them provide proof. We’ve had situations where agents or others have tried to do an AMA as their client, and Victoria shut that s— down immediately. We can’t do that anymore.”
Ohanian and Pao took to Reddit to communicate directly with moderators and address the issues.
“Longer term, we are building tools to help you all do your jobs more effectively (anti-brigading and better modmail/tools are already in progress),” Ohanian wrote in a response to a user. “We will build these with your input and incorporate more transparency. We have many ideas, and we would like to hear yours. We will keep you all in the loop as our plans crystallize into actual tools.”
“The bigger problem is that we haven’t helped our moderators with better support after many years of promising to do so,” Pao wrote. “We do value moderators; they allow reddit to function and they allow each subreddit to be unique and to appeal to different communities.”
This is just the latest in a series of grievances longtime Reddit users have had with Pao. Most notable was one of her rule changes prohibiting harassment, part of her attempt to improve the site’s image. Users subsequently harassed Pao for fear she was trying to censor a site known for open and often over-the-top discussion.
[This post has been updated.]