Reddit Plans to Boot Protesting Moderators Over Inactivity

  • Thousands of Reddit communities have been made private to protest changes to the site’s API.
  • The Verge reported that Reddit admins reached out to protesting mods to urge them to work or be removed.
  • Critics argue the move is punishing users for protesting changes to the platform.

Reddit administrators sent messages to protesting moderators threatening to kick them out of their roles if they don’t get in line and end their virtual blackout, The Verge reported. 

The message, obtained by The Verge, told Reddit moderators, “If there are mods here who are willing to work towards reopening this community, we are willing to work with you to process a Top Mod Removal request or reorder the mod team to achieve this goal if mods higher up the list are hindering reopening.”

Reddit spokesperson Tim Rathschmidt told Insider in an emailed statement that administrators “have not threatened anyone. That’s not how we operate. Pressuring people is not our goal. We’re communicating expectations and how things work. Redditors want to reddit and mods want to mod. We want mods who want to mod to be able to do so.”

Rathschmidt added, “there are a ton of mods that want to turn their subs back to being public and are asking for help to do so.” He noted that site officials “didn’t limit our outreach to mods that reached out to us first” but did not specify their criteria for which mods received the message and which didn’t.

Thousands of moderators shut down their Reddit pages this week to protest the company’s new pricing policy for third-party apps that use its application-programming interface, or API. The blackout affected more than 8,000 Reddit pages at its peak, and over 4,000 are still dark, according to The Verge. 

In a Reddit thread discussing the blackout, users and admin discussed how privatizing major subreddits may violate the site’s internal Moderator Code of Conduct, which includes “policies and processes in place that address inactive moderation (Rule 4), mods vandalizing communities (Rule 2), and subreddit squatters (also Rule 4),” according to an administrator comment in the thread.

Rule 2 of the Moderator Code of Conduct requires mods to set appropriate expectations for what users may find in a particular subreddit, and Rule 4 requires active content moderation. Neither mentions what may happen in the case of protests or staged demonstrations.

“When rules like these are broken, we remove the mods in violation of the Moderator Code of Conduct, and add new, active mods to the subreddits,” the admin said. “If a moderator team unanimously decides to stop moderating, we will invite new, active moderators to keep these spaces open and accessible to users.”

Rathschmidt told Insider that mods currently being removed from their posts were being removed for violating the code of conduct, not for protesting.

“If mods abandon a community, we find new mods,” Rathschmidt said: “If mods keep private a large community with folks who want to engage, we find new mods who want to reinvigorate it. If mods disagree with one another, we reorder the list so the most constructive, community-minded leaders are at the top. The rules that allow us to do this are not new and were not developed to limit protests.”

But critics of Reddit’s move aren’t so sure — users in the thread discussing the changes quickly challenged the idea that the rules were fairly applied to protesting subreddit communities.

For example, if a whole community voted to go dark, one user wrote that Reddit “will just ignore that lol. As if the mod code of conduct is some kind of moral or legally binding document. Its there to cover reddit’s bottom line and it will be used as a weapon to do so.”

Casey Newton, a tech journalist for the newsletter Platformer, wrote that Reddit “is moving to centralize control of its ecosystem at the precise time that the rest of industry has begun to explore more federated models. When even Meta is preparing to launch a decentralized social network, it’s fair to ask whether Reddit has misread the moment.” 

Newton added: “It’s possible the current crisis will pass, the subreddits will go public again, and the network will pick up where it left off. But Reddit’s API changes have clearly struck a nerve, and it is in the nature of forum drama to resolve by members deciding to take their business elsewhere.”

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