We are Witness a Digital Walkout
At 1pm EST 2 July, 2015 the subreddit /r/IAMA, the Ask Me Anything community, went private to protest the firing of Victoria Taylor from Reddit staff, the AMA coordinator and staff contact for the subreddit. /r/AMA is a popular default subreddit with 8 million subscribers and frequently featured online discussions with celebrities or notable members of the Reddit community. For example, two notable AMA discussants were President Barack Obama and a trilogy of sessions with a vacuum cleaner salesman. In the hours that have passed more and more subreddits have gone private in solidarity with /r/IAMA’s concerns over Administrator-Moderator communication. This dispute, and the rallying of Reddit moderators, offers an example of a digital walkout.
Reddit is an online community that depends on unpaid labor. Subreddits, individual communities of the larger website, utilize the management of volunteer moderators. In turn, moderators effectively govern their subreddits — changing rules, banning/shadowbanning users, and removing posts. In the past, Reddit has received criticism over allowing moderators to administrate communities of questionable content (such as working with a creepy administrator to maintain the jailbait sub) or subreddits dedicated to offensive content. For example, administrators tolerated the /r/fatpeoplehate subreddit as long as discussion remained in the same community and banned the sub last month when harassment moved to other subs. Admins have also moved subreddits off the default list for mod behavior such the censorship scandal in the /r/technology sub.
Reddit administrators and moderators operate on a hierarchical power balance. Reddit administrators serve as the ultimate governors off the website that has been owned by Condé Nast since 2011. But at the same time, unpaid moderators effectively govern the communities that has helped Reddit grow to a successful meta-community. The website received over 160 million visitors for 212 countries in the last month.
The wide-spread move by subreddit moderators to move their subs to private represents a repertoire of contention over Reddit Administrator-Moderator relations. As the day progresses, more subreddits have become private drastically lowering the activity of Reddit while leaving users in the lurch. Although initially private in solidarity, /r/Science cited limiting “the inconvenience to the community” when returning to public after a four-hour outage. Dr. Edward Frenkel, a professor at University of California at Berkeley, whose AMA session was interrupted without warning by the /r/IAMA walkout, tweeted “I am fine with or without @reddit. But I think that shutting down my AMA was incredibly disrespectful of the users, regardless.”
The ongoing Reddit moderator strike begs the question as to how Administrators will respond when the workday begins in San Francisco. As the walkout continues, the Reddit-Moderator labor dispute offers a compelling case study of digital walkouts and the role of unpaid labor in commercial online communities.