Victoria Taylor, aka /u/chooter, was the Reddit employee who coordinated Reddit's famous "Ask Me Anything" mass interviews with celebrities, experts, presidents, and many others. In the wake of her firing, much of the site shut down in protest.
/u/chooter, we hardly knew 'er. (via Reddit)
Last night, without warning or explanation, the suits who run Reddit.com—the messy-yet-indispensable "front page of the Internet"—fired Victoria Taylor, the site's Director of Talent.
Here is Victoria helping Eli Manning answer questions from the Internet. This is a pretty perfect one-picture description of her job. (via Reddit)
Although that was her official title, she was better known as Victoria the Person Who Coordinated All The Important AMA Interviews. "AMA" stands for "Ask Me Anything," and these were big, crazy interviews conducted between the Reddit community at large and...anyone who wanted to do one. The leading theory right now is that Reddit's executives wanted to monetize these more—i.e. "Ask Me Anything, Because I Paid For This Interview" and Victoria was resistant.
Even if you never heard of these, trust me, they were important. Movie stars did them, scientists did them, international fugitives like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange did them, as did presidential candidates and the President himself.
If all this lingo is throwing you, just imagine that Reddit is like The New York Times, except all the different sections are run by volunteers. They fired someone everyone liked, and so today everyone woke up to find the World, Metro, Arts, and Sports sections had all been removed in protest.
Confusingly for some, the name of the subreddit where Ask Me Anything interviews happen is "/r/IAmA," as in, "I Am A US President, Ask Me Anything."
If you had logged on to /r/IAmA before approximately 1:45 pm EST today, you would have seen the "this subreddit is private" message above. The moderators of /r/IAmA shut it down in protest, as did the moderators of many of the site's other biggest subreddits. This highlights an important part of Reddit's popularity—it's run largely by volunteer moderators, not Reddit employees, with the exception of a few people like Victoria.
What really pissed everyone off was the behavior of people in Reddit's corporate structure and the way they take volunteer moderators for granted.
Here's Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian (aka /u/kn0thing) being, for lack of a better term, a spoiled little shit about the whole debacle:
I'm almost more offended by "So it goes." Look at me, I can quote Vonnegut while completely dismissing the people who made me rich! (via Ryan Broderick)
And here's Ohanian later "apologizing."
"I made two dumb joke comments in SRD, which I admit were dumb," Ohanian wrote this morning about his popcorn post pic.twitter.com/PCORArlvKr— Ryan Broderick (@broderick) July 3, 2015
Here's Ohanian telling the moderators "I hear you loud and clear, so please shut the eff up and keep doing my work for free."
This afternoon, however, /r/IAmA came back. Sort of.
In fact, you could say that the half-hearted way they came back, combined with their complete loss of faith in Reddit as a company and an institution, was even worse than going dark in protest. You only protest if you think someone is listening.
"We...have unfortunately come to the conclusion that [Reddit does] not have a plan that we can put our trust in." (via Reddit)
Here's a short list of the forums that, at some point in the last day, went dark. Many are coming back now, with moderators posting angry statements similar to that in /r/IAmA, with some referring to the firing as "yesterday's Chooting."
Even if you don't know the site, you can get an idea of how important these are from the topics they cover:
Again, why this happened is currently unclear. For all I know, Victoria punched a guy out in Reddit's offices before setting fire to her desk in a bath salts rage, screaming outdated racial obscenities and making up new ones on the spot. If something like this happened, I'm sure we can all agree it's probably best they let her go. That seems unlikely, however. There was some scuttlebutt that a bizarre AMA with Jesse Jackson this week was the proximate cause, but that speculation seems to have died down. The current speculation, as I mentioned, says that the top executives wanted a more commercialized AMA (video interviews, basically more TV-like, and making it pay-to-play) and she was resistant, so they let her go.
They didn't flat-out ban her from the site, however, so we can actually see her react to her own firing online.
It is worth noting that Reddit probably can't say exactly why she was fired, due to various workplace laws. As I mentioned, though, this is as much about how terrible Reddit is at communicating with its volunteer moderators as it is about Victoria. Victoria didn't run /r/IAmA singlehandedly. It has its own moderators, in particular /u/Karmanaut, who schedule and coordinate the these interviews (most of which are with normal-ish people, like "I Am A Marine Biologist, Ask Me About Fish And Shit.") Victoria was a key part of the process, however, especially for the big interviews.
Not only did she physically transcribe many celebrities' answers, her presence reassured everyone that the person doing the interview was actually there (this was a problem before she arrived—actors' agents pretending to be their clients, total frauds pretending to be celebrities, etc).
She also worked with the AMA subjects before the page would go live to prepare them for what they were in for by subjecting themselves to the Internet and Reddit in particular. This prevented such disasters as the infamous Woody Harrelson AMA, in which he basically got pissed with the Internet for being the Internet and not asking the questions he wanted.
TL;DR — Victoria was a big part of how Reddit kept and grew its respectability. She helped the site stay relevant and become place that news could happen, not just be aggregated.
Aside from her firing, what really pissed everyone off is that no one at corporate gave the volunteer mods who relied on her any heads up, leading to chaos and anger.
One last thing must be said, which is that the Reddit community has been restless in general for a while now. Reddit has been in the midst of a three-sided civil war between the corporates, the "free (shitty, racist, misogynist) speech" crowd, and the "make Reddit safer" crowd (or SJWs as the free/shitty speech team calls them). Usually, the corporates and the "make Reddit safer" crowd are on the same side, but basically no one likes Reddit the company. After weeks of moves that mostly only generated "we're going to leave!" threats from the worst members of the community (threats pretty much everyone else was fine with), the corporates finally managed to piss everyone off and generate threats of leaving for sites like Voat.
The #2 post on Reddit as of press time. (via Reddit)
In addition to being generally liked, and her firing being a symbol for poor communication with the community, Victoria was also probably the most prominent woman at Reddit—with the exception of controversial CEO Ellen Pao (who just lost a gender-bias suit against famed venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins). Although Reddit's suits have recently sided with the "make Reddit safer" crowd, this doesn't help the sites reputation for being unfriendly to women.
In short, this is a total shitshow. It seems to have mostly died down during the time it took me to write this article, but stay tuned—this could turn out to be nothing, or it could be the moment that Reddit finally becomes the next Digg.