Reddit, the Internet’s bulletin board that serves 7.55 billion pageviews monthly, is in complete chaos after the company’s first Director of Communications, Victoria Taylor, was fired abruptly. Since Taylor’s termination on Thursday night, several default subreddits have gone “dark” (setting themselves to private, and thus blocking the public’s access to the subreddits’ content) in protest and to show solidarity with Taylor.
Taylor, during her time at Reddit, was arguably the company’s most public face, having organized, verified and moderated most of the celebrities’ AMAs (“ask me anything”).
Those who knew Taylor personally said that she was warm and genuine, and had the integrity to never let anyone but the celebrities themselves answer the questions posed by Reddit’s users. Almost universally beloved, Taylor’s firing puzzled many. Taylor’s presence was also instrumental to getting celebrities onboard with the idea of doing AMAs, helping them understand, most crucially, the format which may seem hectic and disorienting for first-time users.
But now, all of a sudden, she’s gone.
No explanation, nothing. Just fired.
After speaking to several Reddit employees (all of whom declined to be named due to the high tensions surrounding this issue) and people familiar with the site’s operations, here’s what The Michael Report exclusively found out… and it’s not pretty at all.
Reddit wanted to commercialize AMA, but Taylor wasn’t comfortable with selling users out
When Reddit received a $50 million investment from prominent venture capitalists such as Marc Andreessen, Peter Thiel and Ron Conway in October last year, the site, which operated in the red, promised to be profitable in the near future. One of the ways the executive team overseeing Reddit’s operations thought they could do that was if they pushed harder to commercialized the AMA subreddit, which often featured prominent celebrities such as President Obama and a guy with two fully functioning penises. Taylor, however, was not comfortable with how much Reddit wanted to commercialize the AMAs.
Multiple sources within Reddit told us that the management team including Reddit’s founder Alexis Ohanian wanted Taylor “extract soundbites from celebs that they can sell on shirts and cups and whatever” during the AMAs, which would require Taylor to either modify the users’ questions or selectively pick questions in hopes of getting the soundbites instead of doing what users expected her to do, which is to ask the most upvoted questions. Other sources said that Reddit’s management team, most of who rarely reads the AMAs themselves, often pushed for Taylor to modify the questions posed, angling it such that Reddit would be able to obtain more advertisers.
In one particularly egregious example, a current Reddit employee told us that there were high-level discussions for convince Taylor to receive questions from a celebrity’s agent (the source declined to reveal which) and have the celebrity answer those questions with prepared statements that is intended to generate goodwill among the site’s users.
One of the ideas floated around by higher-ups at Reddit was also to do video AMAs (instead of the current text format), which would command extremely high ad rates from advertisers due to the attention given to certain celebrities. The idea, we were told, was to “pre-sell ad spots to advertisers beforehand”, including but not limited to preroll video ads and having the celebrities plug the sponsored products during the interview. As far as we know, Taylor has resisted these pressures and remained loyal to the site’s users.
“[Victoria] pissed the management team enough that they thought she should be replaced by someone… more obedient,” a source within Reddit told us.
There’s a huge disconnect between Reddit’s management team and users
Despite having a community team whose job is to appease Reddit’s moderators (volunteers who manage the subreddits), it seems like the team has not been very effective in doing their jobs. The general sentiment among the site’s moderators is that the administrators (paid Reddit employees) often brushed off their question and concerns whenever they had one or needed the admins’ intervention. Taylor, on the other hand, often tried her best to assist the moderators in resolving their issues. “What really lit the fuse was that literally none of the moderators knew Reddit was gonna fire Victoria, and Reddit didn’t bother telling them. Reddit’s execs, who don’t even use Reddit, really don’t know what’s going on and the shit that just hit the fan,” a person close to Reddit’s operations told us.
Indeed, Reddit’s moderators seem to have no idea that Taylor was going to be terminated (neither did Taylor: in one thread, Taylor said she was “dazed” by the decision). One of the r/AMA mods, who goes by the username karmanaut, wrote in a post explaining why the subreddit went dark:
Today, we learned that Victoria was unexpectedly let go from her position with Reddt. We all had the rug ripped out from under us and feel betrayed.
Before doing that, the admins really should have at least talked to us (and all the other subs that host AMAs, like/r/Books, /r/Science, /r/Music, etc.) (Edit: not to suggest that we expect to know about Reddit’s inner workings. Just that there should have been a transition in place or something worked out to ensure that Victoria’s duties would be adequately handled, which they are not) We had a number of AMAs scheduled for today that Victoria was supposed to help with, and they are all left absolutely high and dry (hence taking IAMA private to figure out the situation)…
The admins didn’t realize how much we rely on Victoria. Part of it is proof, of course: we know it’s legitimate when she’s sitting right there next to the person and can make them provide proof. We’ve had situations where agents or others have tried to do an AMA as their client, and Victoria shut that shit down immediately. We can’t do that anymore.
Part of it is also that Victoria is an essential lifeline of communication.
Part of it is also organization. The vast majority of scheduling requests go through her and she ensures that we have all of the standard information that we need ahead of time (date, time, proof, description, etc.) and makes it easier for the teams that set up AMAs on both ends. She ensures that things will go well and that the person understands what /r/IAMA is and what is expected of them. Without her filling this role, we will be utterly overwhelmed. We might need to scrap the calendar altogether, or somehow limit AMAs from those that would need help with the process.
We have been really blindsided by all of this. As a result, we will need to go through our processes and see what can be done without her.
Sources we talked to said that Reddit’s commercialization efforts are inherently at odds with the site’s purpose… “look at what happened to Digg or StumbleUpon and look at where this is headed,” an ex-employee told us, referring to two once-dominating social networks which have since fallen by the wayside. One employee whose job used to be interacting with Reddit’s moderators and users viewed the entire drama with disgust, comparing the monetization efforts to turning Reddit into a graveyard.” “Reddit, without its users, is an ugly ass site,” he continued. “But the users make it great. The only thing Reddit can ever monetize is the incredible community… but piss them off, and they leave. They’re literally destroying the product they’re monetizing. Maybe one day they’ll be smart enough to realize that.”
Reddit’s founder Alexis Ohanian’s nonchalant response to the drama (“The popcorn tastes good.”) has further agitated users (update: he has since backtracked).
When asked for comment regarding Taylor’s termination, a spokeswoman for Reddit told The Michael Report “we don’t comment on individual employee matters.” It is interesting to note, however, that the response came not from a Reddit employee but from an executive at Abernathy MacGregor, a crisis management public relations firm.
A current petition to remove Ellen Pao as Reddit’s interim CEO has reached 16,200+ signatures.
EDITOR’S NOTE & UPDATE: In light of new information provided by multiple former and current employees, as well as people currently familiar with the situation, TMR has rewritten significant portions of the original post to reflect our better understanding of the rapidly evolving situation.