We donate our time and talents to Reddit, a for-profit company, because we truly like building cool things on the Internet for others to enjoy. And because Reddit provides a democratic forum based on voting to determine what content gets seen, this means that the most interesting content will rise to the top. Comments and posts that users enjoy get up-voted and become more visible. Comments and posts that users are less interested get down-voted and become less visible.
The democratic system has worked very well. The communities we once moderated with a handful of subscribers grew to millions, and the demands of those communities expanded proportionally. We needed someone like Victoria Taylor to help meet the challenges that arose when running a site read by millions. Communities built their policies around her and relied on her as a coach, a warm voice and a point of contact in an emergency. When the company removed her without warning or providing alternative resources, it effectively hindered every community that hosts the wildly popular A.M.A.s that have made Reddit a part of the mainstream media conversation.
We received news of Ms. Taylor’s termination in a chaotic way: Someone who was scheduled to conduct an A.M.A. flew to New York to visit the Reddit office and discovered a canceled appointment and no backup support. Our team got a panicked message — and we had no real idea what was going on.
As a result, we temporarily closed the subreddit to the public in order to figure out what to do next. Because IAmA is constantly watched by the Reddit community as well as the news media, we as moderators determined that the best course of action was to figure out how to proceed in private. We did not anticipate or intend for other communities to follow our lead as part of a protest. However, the support was overwhelming and echoed the sentiment our shutdown illustrated — anger at the way the company routinely demands that the volunteers and community accept major changes that reduce our efficiency and increase our workload.
We built our policies and procedures around having a professional partner at the company to substantiate, facilitate and respond to queries in a timely manner. We as a moderator team established a trusting relationship with her and relied heavily on that trust to operate the subreddit. Ms. Taylor did a great deal to make the A.M.A.s so successful: She worked directly with charities and agents to coordinate high-profile forums. She would walk participants through the basics of using Reddit, create verified accounts for them to use, and help them introduce themselves to the community. Now we are having to work around the lack of these resources, with a continued expectation of success.
The secondary purpose of shutting down was to communicate to the relatively tone-deaf company leaders that the pattern of removing tools and failing to improve available tools to the community at large, not merely the moderators, was an affront to the people who use the site.
Reddit’s interim chief executive, Ellen Pao, has said that the recent events were the result of miscommunication. “We have apologized for not communicating better with the moderators,” Ms. Pao told NPR.
We feel strongly that this incident is more part of a reckless disregard for the company’s own business and for the work the moderators and users put into the site. Dismissing Victoria Taylor was part of a long pattern of insisting the community and the moderators do more with less.
Miscommunication implies there was any communication at all or any kind of real planning in place to compensate for the loss, when in reality the moderators and A.M.A. guests were left stranded. Though company leaders have apologizedpublicly, they still have not fully explained the decision.
Our goal is not to cripple Reddit or hinder the community. We are all the community. And we want Reddit to remain vibrant. We have put in thousands of hours over the years toward making these communities excellent.
We are disheartened by the dismissal of Victoria Taylor, who was one of the most high-profile women at the company — and in the technology field. We hope Reddit recruits someone with the talent and necessary background to fill her position in a similar capacity. The community on the whole has also spoken quite loudly: Pay attention to the user base. Users are not simply a screaming mob. They are actually asking for reasonable support, and as moderators, we are trying very hard to do what we can to make those changes happen.Continue reading the main story
But on Reddit, sometimes magical things happen. Although the community is a disparate group of millions of users all around the world and there are plenty of trolls, the website fosters real human connections between strangers. I once received a hand knit scarf and a random assortment of local beer from a Secret Santa whom I never met. Another time, when I expressed interest in astronomy on another conversation thread, someone sent me science textbooks.
So, hoping for the best, I reached out to the SAT tutor, and a few days later he texted me back, introduced himself as James, and we made an appointment to meet.
On a clammy and cloudy Tuesday, I found James in the stacks of Barnes & Noble, wearing fancy boots, jeans and a plaid shirt. He was tall, confident and extremely articulate.
“So, why did you drop out of rabbinical school? Crisis of faith?” he joked.
I told James that I was completely lost about how to get to college. My younger sister, a first-year student at the University of Chicago at the time, was an inspiration, but I had seen how hard she worked to get there, studying for her SATs since the seventh grade, diligently reading daily emails from the College Board with prep questions.
At 22, one glance at the college essay prompts would plunge me immediately into self-doubt. But I passionately wanted to go to school, to foster a curiosity that could not be sated with Talmud. I imagined being mentored by men in tweed jackets sitting in oversize armchairs, our faces illuminated by a crackling fire.
And James was supportive of that (although possibly amused by my vision of college). He spent hours with me that day demystifying the test-taking and application process and sharing study tools that I still find useful. He taught me the tricks to multiple-choice, and how to strategically answer math questions that I didn’t recognize. He walked me through my difficulties with subject-verb agreements and showed me how to “hack” large passages of text in order to answer reading comprehension questions.
At one point, we moved our study session to a nearby diner and James talked while I furiously scribbled notes in the back of an old SAT book with yellowing pages. He told me a little bit about himself: He had gone to the fancy prep school where “Dead Poets Society” was filmed and had taken four years of Latin there.
At one point, through bites of bacon and eggs, he started speaking in a strange dialect.
“What are you saying?” I asked when he stopped for breath and another slice of bacon. I was never that close to bacon, and it was distracting: It smelled like pastrami but was a little off, like being on a blind date with someone who is charming and likable but there’s no romantic spark.
“That’s Chaucer. ‘Canterbury Tales,’” he said. “We had to memorize it in high school.”
Through our conversation, I felt James’s confidence rub off on me and my fear of failure dissipate. I sat higher in my chair. When I went to pay for the breakfast, however, my credit card was declined and I was mortified. A perfect stranger had given me hours of his professional time — free — and I couldn’t even pay for breakfast. But he brushed it off, as if it was a nonissue.
For the next two months, I studied incredibly hard. I’d spend long afternoons and evenings at Starbucks, doing practice tests in a zombielike state. The night before the SAT, James sent me a good luck text and reminded me to eat a light breakfast, and bring snacks, a clock and extra pencils. I don’t remember much of that day. I hit the ground running and didn’t think. Eight weeks later, I received my score. I had jumped 400 points from my original test, and my writing section was in the 95th percentile.
I thanked him profusely, but didn’t see James again for another four years or so. By that point, I was a senior at Hunter College, pursuing a degree in history and minors in linguistics and English. My research on Yeshivish, a dialectical English spoken among sections of Orthodox Jews, had won an award at a conference and I wanted to tell James about the wild success story that had come from his act of charity, and buy that breakfast I owed him.
At a restaurant in Jersey City — this time, kosher and bacon-free — we talked about his life and mine. I was working on applications to fellowships abroad. He was engaged to a doctor and they were moving out West for her job. We were both closing chapters in our lives and starting new ones.
Now I’m an English teacher in a Yeshiva similar to the one I attended, hoping to be the James that I wish I had when I was the students’ age. I’ve been to college and back, prepared to counsel the next generation of students who decide to venture to worlds unknown.Continue reading the main story