r/Politics is in the throes of a political upheaval

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on November 4, 2013

From The News Desk

The subreddit r/Politics, a place for free and open discourse about current political events, is having trouble in paradise. And the only recourse redditors seem to have is revolution. That is, reddvolution.

Well, not quite. But followers of r/Politics are none-too-thrilled with the forum's moderators, and this could seriously alter the popularity of this age-old subreddit.

Last week the moderators at the subreddit r/Politics announced changes to their system of moderation. The announcement heralded a new system of vetting posts: A running blacklist of titles they don't like, many of which are generally considered very good sources such as Salon and Mother Jones. As they put it, the subreddit was simply "not up to scratch." This is due to many of the posted articles representing "blogspam," "sensationalism," or "bad journalism."

This was not met well by outsiders (myself included) and insiders alike.

Followers of the subreddit commented about its hypocrisy, and proposed numerous remedies. These included leaving the subreddit entirely (which claims more than 3 million readers), or implementing various forms of online protest, such as down voting every post on the forum for a day or submitting only right-wing extremist posts that didn't make the blacklist's cut.

This weekend the moderators responded with an apologetic yet bizarrely empty post. "We've tried to get to your specific concerns," they wrote, "but there are only a few of us, and the response has been staggering."

This appeared to be promising. The moderators realized their mistake in trying to create Reddit-constructed news filter bubble, and were trying to alleviate the problem. Yet, they didn't say exactly what or how they were going to fix it. The moderators mentioned an overall theory behind the policy changes, but didn't precisely name the theory. This just angered readers more.

The theory, to me, seems very simple. The moderators want to impose a blanket list of banned titles so that they can more easily moderate the popular thread. It doesn't seem like such a hard concept to explain, but that still doesn't make it an easier pill for redditors to swallow.

Earlier today the mods issued one more update. In essence, it was more thoughts behind the blacklist and the unbanning of Mother Jones. It seemed like more of the same gripes they wrote in earlier posts: there are too few moderators and it's difficult to sift through endless post submissions. None of this better elucidated an overall concept, or a better way to proceed.

r/Politics followers have been responding with a flurry of reactions to every new update. Most pointed to how illogical a banned list on a subreddit is (especially on a subreddit with such an expansive topic). Others focused on a lack of communication between moderators and readers. All are valid points.

Perhaps the most interesting -- dare I say, ironic -- responses were the ones calling for the removal of the current moderators. As one redditor wrote, it was time to "let the community democratically elect an entirely new mod team." The readers were unhappy with these changes, the moderators are to blame; r/Politics wants a better politics for itself.

This led to a serious discussion about how the officials in this country -- err,  online forum -- came to exist and whether they'll resort to corruption to maintain their power. One user explained that if there was an attempt to bring in new mods, "[the current ones would] simply rig the vote."

For some context, Reddit moderators are not paid, they are all volunteers, and according to the initial apology, they spend hours wading through stupid submissions to find the best ones for the forum. It doesn't sound terribly glamourous. At the same time, they may still be power-hungry anti-democratic shills.

None of this will be resolved until the moderators have a real grasp of they're going to change with r/Politics' rules, beyond a fleeting reference to an altered "theory" and the unbanning of one publication.

The Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel noted that what r/Politics' moderators don't realize is that their reasons for having a blacklist aren't congruous with how online journalism works these days. As long as the list exists, neither redditors nor journalists will be happy.

As for the redditors, however, a complete secession seems unlikely.