Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Reddit Shutdown: Model Cyber Protest or Temper Tantrum?

Last Friday approximately 300 discussion forums on Reddit were shut down by their moderators in a show of protest against the firing of Reddit employee, Victoria Taylor, the company's director of talent.  Some of the details of this story remain shrouded in mystery - most notably, the reasons for why Ms. Taylor was fired, as well as why moderators thought she was so valuable in the first place.  The stated reasons don't seem overly compelling:  that she "coordinated high-profile forums...  would walk participants through the basics of using Reddit, create verified accounts for them to use, and help them introduce themselves to the community".

As for the more specific reasons behind the protest, the volunteer moderators first posted a document online that asked for better communication with official staff, as well as improved software tools for community management.  Then, yesterday, two of these moderators published an op-ed in the New York Times explaining "Why We Shut Down Reddit's 'Ask Me Anything' Forum".  In it, they describe their "anger at the way the company routinely demands that the volunteers and community accept major changes that reduce our efficiency and increase our workload", "a long pattern of insisting the community and the moderators do more with less", and their desire "to communicate to the relatively tone-deaf company leaders that the pattern of removing tools and failing to improve available tools to the community at large, not merely the moderators, was an affront to the people who use the site".

Reddit's CEO, Ellen Pao, apologized for not informing the community.  Meanwhile, all of the subreddit forums are back online.

Should the rest of us care?  On the one hand, because of Reddit's 160 million regular monthly visitors, this is a cyber protest with high visibility and, arguably, impact.  The volunteer moderators expressed their voice effectively in communicating their discontent to their corporate overseers, and did so, publicly, through collective action.  As far as cyber protests go, that's fairly significant.

On the other hand, Ms. Taylor is still fired and, only a few days later, the subreddits are cruising along as if nothing ever happened.  The practical effect of the cyber protest has been simply to get an apology and to publicly complain about "having to do more with less".

Unless I'm missing something, that's not exactly the sign of the apocalypse.



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