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Reddit CEO says the mods leading a punishing blackout are too powerful and he will change the site's rules to weaken them

Lindsay Dodgson   

Reddit CEO says the mods leading a punishing blackout are too powerful and he will change the site's rules to weaken them
  • Reddit CEO Steve Huffman says the site's mods are too powerful.
  • He said he planned to change the rules so users could vote them out of subbreddits.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman says the site's mods are too powerful. In an interview on Thursday, he told NBC that he planned to change the rules so users had the power to vote the moderators of subreddits out.

He said the current system — where mods can only be removed by themselves, higher-ranking mods, or Reddit itself — was "not democratic" and compared it to a "landed gentry."

"If you're a politician or a business owner, you are accountable to your constituents. So a politician needs to be elected, and a business owner can be fired by its shareholders," he told NBC. "And I think, on Reddit, the analogy is closer to the landed gentry: The people who get there first get to stay there and pass it down to their descendants, and that is not democratic."

Huffman's comments followed a 48-hour blackout that close to 3,500 subreddits took part in on Monday and Tuesday to protest Reddit's new pricing policy.

Reddit implemented charges for third-party apps using its application-programming interface, or API, which used to be free.

The iOS app Apollo, for example, which has been using the API for eight years, said it would cost $20 million to continue under the new pricing guidelines. Rather than pay, the app's developer, Christian Selig, said it would be closing down on June 30, Ars Technica reported.

"I don't see how this pricing is anything based in reality or remotely reasonable," he said, per Ars Technica. "I hope it goes without saying that I don't have that kind of money or would even know how to charge it to a credit card."

Reddit mods hold a lot of power, which many believe is earned from the amount of unpaid labor they put into the site. Researchers from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and Northwestern University estimated in a study last year that the number of hours worked by Reddit mods in 2020 was worth $3.4 million.

Huffman didn't appear worried that another rule change would result in more protests. He told NBC that it was "really important" to ensure "protests, now or in the future, are actually representative of their communities."

"And I think that may have been the case for many at the beginning of this week, but that's less and less the case as time goes on," he said, suggesting that the support for mods may be wavering.

While around 80% of subreddits are accessible again, some large ones, including r/aww, r/videos, and r/AskHistorians, remain inaccessible, and mods wrote in a recent post titled "The Fight Continues" that their "core concerns still aren't satisfied."

"Reddit has budged-microscopically," the organizers wrote. "Reddit has been silent since it began, and internal memos indicate that they think they can wait us out."

The Verge reported earlier this week that Huffman warned employees in an internal memo not to wear Reddit-branded clothing in public and wrote: "Some folks are really upset, and we don't want you to be the object of their frustrations."

"There's a lot of noise with this one. Among the noisiest we've seen," he added, per The Verge. "Please know that our teams are on it, and like all blowups on Reddit, this one will pass as well."

Huffman told NBC that there was no set timeline for his proposed changes and said he wouldn't have paid Reddit staff to become more involved in subreddit moderation.

"What I'm suggesting as a pathway out is actually more democracy," he said. "We've got some old, legacy decisions on how communities are run that we need to kind of work our way out of."




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