Reddit is mostly back up to full capacity Monday after a weekend revolt in which moderators locked major portions of the site off from the general public -- all because of the dismissal of Reddit's director of talent, Victoria Taylor.
To start, you need some context. Taylor's firing gave spark to tension that had been gathering for months between Reddit the company and Reddit the community.
Core users helped build Reddit into one of the world's most-trafficked sites (33rd, by the latest Alexa traffic estimate.) Bought by Conde Nast in 2006, it's since claimed the title of the "front page of the Internet" -- a place for wide-ranging, free, online discussions, even if that discourse is at times distasteful, rude, or downright offensive.
But over the past several months, since Ellen Pao took over as interim chief executive, the site has implemented policies to clean up its act -- most notably strict rules against harassment. That's upset many users who want to see the site remain free, warts and all.
Which brings us to Taylor. Victoria Taylor joined Reddit in 2013 to be its first director of communications, by way of the public relations firm ID PR. At the time of her hiring, then-Reddit executive Erik Martin described her as an "advocate and supporter of all things reddit for years." From the start, Taylor highlighted the "Ask Me Anything" or AMA -- open question-and-answer sessions that are high-profile draws for Reddit -- as one of her favorite aspects of the site. She soon became nearly synonymous with the subreddit, allowing her to build a fan following of her own. Often, she personally managed interactions between Reddit users and celebrities, politicians and leading academics.
First as director of communications and then as director of talent, Taylor quickly gained the reputation of being quick, competent and trustworthy. She provided a much-needed bridge between the corporate side of Reddit and its users. That made her popular with Reddit's powerful moderators, who don't work for Reddit but have complete editorial control over the thousands of niche discussion sections on the site -- which are devoted to everything from cute animals to depression. She was also a rare, public female face at Reddit and in tech world. Amid the vitriol now directed at Pao, many users have pointed out the irony that Pao, who just lost a bruising, high-profile gender discrimination suit, would have let go a prominent woman at Reddit.
But mostly, Taylor was known as someone who just "got" Reddit, and worked hard to listen to its community at a time, particularly when core users felt their vision for Reddit was under siege by the company's new policies.
As one of the moderators for the AMA section of Reddit noted: "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 [down] immediately. We can't do that anymore."
Even worse, the moderators posted Friday, there was no warning about Taylor's dismissal, which left the moderators feeling high and dry. Combined with growing existing anger about the direction Reddit is taking, that was enough to prompt moderators to make parts of the site inaccessible to the public. It was also enough to make users pick up their digital pitchforks (literally, with posts of "-----E") and gather over 171,000 signatures in four days for an online petition demanding Pao's resignation.
Taylor did not respond to a request for comment. She's been quiet on Reddit and other social media apart from a couple of posts Friday saying she was "dazed" while also thanking people for their support. For its part, Reddit is staying mum on why, exactly, it let Taylor go. The company declined to discuss the issue when asked by The Post, citing privacy policies over personnel issues.
Meanwhile, the AMA sessions are slated for change. In a statement Monday, Reddit executive chairman and co-founder Alexis Ohanian said that the company is looking at revamping AMAs, with an eye on attracting more celebrity and influential people to become regulars on the site, rather than guests. In a statement sent to The Post, Ohanian said:
With our announcement on Friday, we're phasing out our role being in-between interesting people and the reddit audience so that we can focus on helping remarkable people become redditors, not just stop by on a press tour.The responsibilities of our talent relations team going forward is about integrating celebrities, politicians, and noteworthy people as consistent posters (like Arnold, Snoop, or Bernie Sanders) rather than one off occurrences. Instead of just working with them once a year to promote something via AMA, we want to be a resource to help them to actually join the reddit community.We're still introducing and sourcing talent for AMAs, just now giving the moderators the autonomy to conduct them themselves.
The company isn't staying quiet, however, about the perception that there's been a split between its core audience and its management. Pao apologized for the way the Taylor dismissal was handled and said in a statement that the company should have been more communicative with the moderators. Ohanian has been posting reams of comments all over Reddit -- at times answering individual questions -- and saying in no uncertain terms that Reddit handled things poorly.
As for the AMAs, they are back online, with moderators saying they are still unhappy with the situation but adding, "it would be unfair for us not to publicly recognize the recent efforts on the part of the site administration to 'make it right'." The apologies by the executives are important: Reddit may have larger ambitions, but it needs to keep its base happy to avoid the fate of Digg, a similar Web site, which floundered after shifting too quickly from its base.
The company apologized yet again Monday, saying in a post by Pao it will introduce a new position -- Moderator Advocate -- and improve moderator tools:
I know these are just words, and it may be hard for you to believe us. I don't have all the answers, and it will take time for us to deliver concrete results. I mean it when I say we screwed up, and we want to have a meaningful ongoing discussion. I know we've drifted out of touch with the community as we've grown and added more people, and we want to connect more. I and the team are committed to talking more often with the community, starting now.