Reddit Blackout and the Bigger Picture

Reddit is Broken

Reddit is pretty much part of regular online routine at this point, but it had recently gone even deeper to shit. It’s not the usual mud-slapping like Gamergate and whatever SRS and SJW nonsense going on. This time, it’s a Reddit blackout after the firing of a key personnel and mods went on a mutiny. If there’s one thing wrong with community sites, running them is a perilous balancing act. Users riot under threat of autocratic control, but they also turn communities sour when given too much freedom. That’s pretty much the story in this case as well.

For now, Reddit is still up and running, but many of the big subreddits are down due to the protest. The most desired conclusion is to have Reddit CEO Ellen Pao step down, which doesn’t look likely at this point. From how things are going, it seems that Reddit may go the same way as Digg did back in the day. If you want the whole lowdown, there are plenty of news articles on it like this one on Wired.

Some may think that Reddit is now too big to go down, but that’s the whole Titanic thing all over again 103 years later.

Reddit Blackout flag

From r/Vexillology: A flag representing the Reddit blackout. The white circle represents the desired daily gold goal percentage (zero); the black background simultaneously represents the blackout technique used by the resistance and the chaos that Reddit has plunged into as a result of the Admins’ reckless policies.

NOTE: I’m not knee-deep in this issue; I’m just a casual observer who happens to have something to say about it. Whether you agree with my opinions or not, it’s just one of countless others here on the Internet.

The Situation So Far

To make the long story short, Reddit recently fired Victoria Taylor, their talent coordinator and an administrator of the Ask Me Anything subreddit, which is one of the main draws to the site as it hosts Q&A threads with celebrities and important figures, from President Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger to ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

Turns out that she was well-liked in Reddit and there was no explanation to why she was fired. Moderators in the site then came together and turned their subreddits to private, making them inaccessible and effectively shutting Reddit down for most visitors. This has been a long time coming and Taylor’s unceremonious firing was only one of many that have boggled the community. Reddit’s current administration doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation thus far.

Here’s the leading theory behind the firing, which is disputed by Reddit’s CEO Ellen Pao (ekjp).

If I were asked to make something I raised like a child become more commercial, I’d be uncomfortable too.

Ellen Pao has been a controversial figure during her tenure, and she has been taking a lot more flak because of this. Suffice to say, she’s one of those “social justice warriors” who had been a hot topic last year and prior. Just when you think that the whole SJW and MRA dynamic (which doesn’t really make sense for me, I admit) had gotten old with that Gamergate thing being like a big wad of hair clogging up the bathroom sink drain.

There was stuff like firing an employee for having leukemia, which is kind of a scummy thing to do. Of course, that wasn’t officially announced—the ex-employee came forward with that accusation. But from how things are going, it seems that Ellen Pao may not exactly be such kindhearted boss.

Reddit Admin flag

From r/Vexillology: A flag combining the Upvote-Downvote arrows with the Wolfsangel, a common Fascist symbol.

For now, Pao stated that they are “going to figure this out and fix it“. But from the way it sounds, that may mean they’re removing the means for moderators to do something similar in the future and implement the means to keep them in check. I don’t know how, but they have a lot of reasons to do so.

“The bigger problem is that we haven’t helped our moderators with better support after many years of promising to do so,” Pao wrote in a comment.

Better support? We’ll believe it when we see it, but we doubt it. We still remember that whole Digg 2.0 thing from years ago. It really looks like the death throes of Reddit from here, so maybe you should fess up on what’s really going on.

UPDATE (2015.07.04@17:54): Take a look at the chart in this article by The Independent to see the extent of the Reddit blackout. The scale of the crisis for Reddit is quite alarming; we’re talking millions of subscribers in each of the major subreddits.

UPDATE (2015.07.04@18:48) The Ask Me Anything subreddit is back online, but has explicitly stated that they will no longer work with admins to put together AMAs. Since AMAs are one of the main draws to Reddit, this is certainly a big deal.

Getting Out of the Kitchen

The exodus has begun. Users are now jumping over to other boards while the Reddit blackout is underway. 4chan is a given; many people who are active in Reddit tend to be on-and-off lurkers in 4chan at the very least. There are other image boards like 8chan, 7chan, and so on—although you visit those at your own risk.

Some kick it old school with Metafilter and so on, while gamers just go to NeoGAF for their updates and discussions. There are some alternatives that seem to be capitalizing on the Reddit blackout. For instance, there’s Fark that was designed to look like Reddit, but with much less censorship.

Then there’s Voat, which is perhaps the site that seems to be benefiting the most from the Reddit blackout, although it seems to not be able to handle the sudden influx of traffic at the moment (it’s still in alpha). I guess you can say that it’s almost like how Vessel is to YouTube, but without the paywall and less of that fishy smell. It looks good, promises a haven for communities to thrive like they did when Reddit was “still good”, and seems to have a similar system that should already be familiar to redditors.

Reddit to Voat flag

From r/Vexillology: A flag combining the flag of Reddit with the colors of Voat.

This has been going on since before Facebook and social media, when this whole thing was still called “Web 2.0”. Digg suffered the very same thing; Digg users revolted due to some issue regarding encryption of HD-DVDs (this was way back in 2007 when the iPhone wasn’t released yet).

Since Reddit is such a hotbed for discussions, debates, and flame wars that result in harassment, doxxing, and other nasty shit that you’d expect from the ugly side of the Internet, perhaps it comes as no surprise that the people who run the site can’t stay neutral for long. Soon enough, they come under the rule of someone who is far from neutral and is steadfast in her own vewpoints, so much that her decision-making soon affects much of the site’s social climate and even the office culture.


Truth be told, I don’t know much about this stuff as much as I should—I’d rather stay away from anything related to Internet drama. But this isn’t rocket science since it ultimately is about people being assholes to each other online just because of their own BS (Belief System). Unfortunately, the case here may once again be the opinions of a few dictating the condition of many.

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  1. Reddit AMAgeddon (Wired)
  2. Flags of the Blackout on r/Vexillology (Reddit)