Reddit: controversy and change
The Drum recently published this article by me talking about the changes and controversy surrounding Reddit, and what this means for its users. They’ve been kind enough to let us reproduce it in full below.
It’s been a tough few weeks for Reddit. When Ellen Pao stepped down from the platform last week, it seemed that she has become the latest victim of the very racial and gender controversy that she’d been fighting against. While her leaving has been described as a ‘mutual agreement’ based on reasons other than last week’s issues such as site growth, it’s hard to believe that the recent vitriol she’s experienced from the internet community wasn’t a factor in the decision.
Pao has certainly divided the Reddit community since her appointment as interim CEO back in November. While she was loved by many, she also became a symbol of unwanted change for a vocal group of Reddit users. She was almost solely blamed for a series of decisions that many felt would fundamentally change the platform, including shutting down five subreddits in June such as “Fat People Hate” for violating Reddit’s anti-harassment policy.
Tension culminated with last week’s poorly handled firing of Victoria Taylor, Reddit’s popular director of talent and a key contact for the site’s moderators. A petition on Change.org for Pao to be fired quickly followed, along with protests that involved moderators shutting down hundreds of subreddits.
Reddit management will undoubtedly be hoping Pao’s departure will placate its community, particularly as users seem to be already exploring alternative options. In the midst of the last few weeks’ controversy, users reportedly flocked to Voat, which offers a similar proposition to Reddit. Voat’s creator, Atif Colo recently claimed that in the last 30 days, Voat has had around two million unique visitors and 30 million page views – a huge jump from the previous month’s 138,717 unique visitors and 1.8 million page views.
Colo told financial site MarketWatch that the influx of new users came “just around the time when Reddit would announce a change” and that “The same trend was noticeable when Reddit banned certain subreddits which were used to discuss legal subjects which some people may have found offensive.” Voat has been described in press as the ‘Reddit killer’ and its team claims that they will not make the same mistakes the larger platform has, such as curtailing the more controversial forums.
However, Reddit did get somewhat lucky – Voat is not currently geared up to truly challenge its larger rival. It buckled under demand when Reddit users flocked there following Ms Taylor’s firing – a missed opportunity to really capitalise on Reddit’s perceived failures.
Voat’s team will be working hard to gear up for the next influx; it’s unlikely this is the last controversial moment we’ll see from Reddit, particularly since its new CEO, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, said that he planned to stick by many of Pao’s most unpopular decisions, including deleting malicious threads and the firing of Victoria Taylor. Comparisons are already being drawn to the dramatic decline of social news site Digg five years ago, which benefited (the then up-and-coming) Reddit.
There is a much bigger argument about whether platforms like Reddit and Voat need tighter regulation; some would argue for free speech, some would say that allowing this kind of conversation online is dangerous, igniting and inciting hatred. But regardless of whether Pao’s decisions at Reddit were right or wrong, she’s become a symbol of the tech world’s attitude towards women and the urgent need for this to improve.
As for Reddit – only time will tell whether it can survive further changes from the management – or whether users will vote with their feet.