Hundreds of sections of Reddit, the online discussion board, were shut down on Friday in an apparent protest of the recent firing Victoria Taylor, the site's director of talent. Taylor was known for leading the community's "Ask Me Anything" series (r/IAMA), which brought in celebrities--including President Obama--for interviews. After word of her dismissal spread through the company, moderators for the site, who are all unpaid volunteers, blacked out their subreddits (individual discussions within the site divided into topics such as books, technology, movies, etc.)--and in effect, took the site down. When visitors arrived at the site, they saw this message:
"/r/IAmA, /r/AskReddit, /r/science, /r/gaming, /r/history, /r/Art, and /r/movies have all made themselves private in response to the removal of an administrator key to the AMA process, /u/chooter, as well as underlying resentment against the admins for running the site poorly"
The company has not disclosed the reason for Taylor's firing. Some speculate the dismissal came in response to last Wednesday's AMA with the Reverend Jesse Jackson which contained hostile questions and strange answers. Taylor, as the host of the series, was responsible for pitching the questions and transcribing Jackson's answers, and what got mistranslated could be lawsuit fodder. Others think that Taylor stood in the way of Interim CEO Ellen Pao's vision to move the series in a more commercial direction.
Those who organized the revolt say that the unease is not only due to Taylor's abrupt firing. On r/OutOfTheLoop, a thread explaining the protest, one user wrote: "There is a feeling among many of the moderators of reddit that the admins do not respect the work that is put in by the thousands of unpaid volunteers who maintain the communities of the 9,656 active subreddits, which they feel is expressed by, among other things, the lack of communication between them and the admins, and their disregard of the thousands of mods who keep reddit's communities going."
Pao apologized to the moderators on Friday, characterizing the revolt as a miscommunication. "What we learned from this event is that we need to communicate better with them and that we don't take them for granted," she said. Today, most of the darkened subreddits are live again. A petition for the removal of Pao as CEO cropped up over the weekend, and now has over 150,000 of its goal of 200,000 votes.
The drama, which is being called r/AMAgeddon, is just the latest bad PR for the company, which has seen a great deal of upheaval since Yishan Wong, the company's CEO, abruptly resigned in November after a dispute with the board of directors. Earlier this spring, Reddit's move to curb harassment on the site angered some users and brought about questions about the site's role as a sanctuary for free speech online.
As Reddit moves forward with efforts to monetize the site, the question will be how they can do so without alienating their core users.
Image Credit (Pao) / Wikimedia Commons