Here's why Reddit users have shut down sections of the popular site

Some of San Francisco-based Reddit's most popular content remained hidden from its users on Friday as the heavily trafficked forum site's moderators staged a massive protest after the firing of an apparently beloved employee.

The revolt (dubbed #TheDarkening on some social media sites) led volunteer moderators to block most users from accessing a significant number of the site's most popular subreddits, or bulletin-board-like topical forums around which much of the site is organized. According to a live stream on Reddit that has been tracking the protest, roughly 1,400 subreddits had gone dark as of 11:30 a.m. Pacific time.

Reddit users who serve as volunteer moderators wield administrative power over the site's subreddits, giving them quite a bit of opportunity to cause the site headaches like this.

The fracas began after Reddit parted ways with Victoria Taylor, the site's former director of talent and an administrator who oversaw the immensely popular Ask Me Anything subreddit, which has allowed users to fire questions at celebrities, popular musicians, a former mob boss and even President Obama.

Heather Wilson, a spokeswoman for interim Reddit Chief Executive Ellen Pao, told the Los Angeles Times that as of Thursday, Taylor was "no longer with the company." Wilson declined to elaborate and said Pao would not make any comments about personnel matters. 

However, in a statement released Friday night, Pao apologized for how the "transition" was handled. 

"We should have informed the moderators earlier and provided more detail on the transition plan," Pao said in the statement. "We are working to make improvements and create the best experience for our users and we aren't always perfect. Our community is what makes reddit, reddit and we let you down yesterday."

Taylor could not be reached for comment.

The Ask Me Anything portion of the site was set to "private" on Thursday and into Friday, meaning that most people could not view it until it was turned on again late Friday morning. 

In a post explaining the decision to shut it down, a moderator criticized Reddit executives for failing to discuss Taylor's firing and praised the former employee.

"We have taken the day to try to understand how Reddit will seek to replace Victoria, and have unfortunately come to the conclusion that they do not have a plan that we can put our trust in," the post read. "The admins have refused to provide essential information about arranging and scheduling AMAs with their new 'team.'"

Earlier, Pao had posted a statement on Reddit under the handle "ekjp" and acknowledged the need to better interact with site moderators.

"We do value moderators; they allow reddit to function and they allow each subreddit to be unique and to appeal to different communities," she wrote.

In the hours after the Ask Me Anything subreddit returned, the most popular requests for an AMA interview included ones for Ellen Pao and Victoria Taylor.

It was not clear how many users were affected by the incident, but Reddit boasted 164 million unique visitors in the last month, according to its own data. The site, which was founded in 2005, has operated for years as a subsidiary of Advance Publications, the Newhouse family's media empire.

In a statement released Friday morning, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian apologized for failing to communicate Taylor's termination to the moderators and said the protesters' message was "received loud and clear." While acknowledging their concerns, he also called on the moderators to unlock the subreddits that had been turned private.

"The blackout has served its purpose, and now it’s time to get Reddit functioning again," he wrote. "I know many of you are still upset. We will continue to work through these issues with you all, but redditors don’t deserve to be punished any further over an issue that is ultimately between Reddit and the moderators."

Despite the request for calm, a petition calling for Pao to step down as CEO had garnered more than 35,000 supporters by Friday afternoon.

Pao, who recently lost a high-profile gender discrimination suit against a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, has been repeatedly criticized by users for allegedly bringing an era of censorship to Reddit. Many of those blasting Pao on Friday said Taylor's firing was not the only impetus for the blackout, but rather the last in a series of insults to the site's users.

Reddit rarely policed its users for vitriolic or obscene behavior before Pao came aboard. But in recent months, she has banned the posting of "revenge porn" and shut down forums dedicated to insulting certain races or sexual orientations. In May, the site released a statement saying it would try to curb harassment in general.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


5:11 p.m.: This story has been updated with a statement from interim Reddit Chief Executive Ellen Pao.

3:27 p.m.: This post updated with comments from Ellen Pao and additional background on Reddit.

The first version of this post published at 1:59 p.m.