It’s Game Over

for Volunteer-Driven

Social Media

Reddit’s blackout issue points to a chasm between its ownership and its volunteer moderators. It also points to the fact that those moderators, like other prominent social media users, should be paid.

Ernie Smith
Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, a twice-weekly internet history newsletter, and a frequent contributor to Vice’s Motherboard.

There’s probably no stronger sign that social networks’ tendency to lean on the free work of its users was a losing strategy than the drama happening at Reddit.

You’ve probably heard about the saga that emerged after Reddit decided to begin charging for its API—for one, claims that popular app creators would be on the hook for bills in the tens of millions of dollars. But in many ways, the real story is how quickly the site’s own volunteer moderators turned on the network, leading to a blackout with extended impacts and a CEO who has responded defiantly to his users.

These moderators largely aren’t talking about the blackout in financial terms. But perhaps they should be. In a recent interview with NBC News, CEO Steve Huffman implied that the problem was that the leaders of these communities had too much power over how they were run, even though they are doing so on a volunteer basis.

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