Reddit Furiously Backpedals on Chat Feature After Fierce Backlash

Illustration for article titled Reddit Furiously Backpedals on Chat Feature After Fierce Backlash
Screenshot: Reddit

Earlier this week, Reddit announced it was introducing chat rooms to some of its subreddit communities. Then roughly a day later, that new feature was rolled back due to “several errors” and pissed off moderators.

The “Start Chatting” feature was billed as a way for more redditors to connect over their favorite topics now that everyone’s stuck at home due to social distancing measures. The way it was meant to work was you’d be able to visit a community, click the “Start Chatting” button, and that would take you to a small chat with other members of the same subreddit.

Except the rollout backfired spectacularly.

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In particular, it appears a bug made the new chat feature seem as if it was live for every subreddit—which wasn’t the case and led to widespread confusion. Another problem was that moderators were not given the option to opt-out, and it wasn’t made clear that volunteer subreddit moderators were not in charge of moderating the chats.

“But how am I expected to run a highly sensitive sub filled with traumatized minors when you guys implement a chat feature that I can’t interact with?” an r/abuse moderator also wrote in response to the original announcement. “It’s important for channels like ours to opt out, because we can’t maintain a safe space with this chat function. Same goes for r/depression, r/rape, r/suicidewatch, r/survivorsofabuse, and the list goes on.”

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The moderators of the r/AskHistorians subreddit also protested the feature by turning their subreddit private for an hour, saying Reddit Admins had broken trust by pushing out a feature with no forewarning. The moderators explained what they were dealing with:

As Moderators, we are unpaid volunteers who work to build a community which reflects our values and vision. In the past we have always been promised control over shaping that community by the site Admins, and despite missteps at points, it is a promise we have trusted. Clearly we were wrong to do so, as this has broken that trust in a far worse way than any previous undesired feature the Admins have thrust upon us, lacking any control or say in its existence, even as it seeks to leverage the unique community we have spent many years building up.

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If you scroll through the responses, plenty of non-moderator redditors also chimed in with their displeasure. Some questioned Reddit’s framing of the feature as a response to covid-19, calling it “cynical exploitation.” Others raised security concerns about how unmoderated chats could lead to the spread of misinformation or doxxing. Dozens of others skewered Reddit for attempting to compete with video gaming chat service Discord and rolling out redesigns that “no one had asked for.”

The new feature has since been “100% rolled back,” a fact that Reddit has since confirmed to the Verge. In another post, Reddit Vice President of Product and Community Alex Le wrote that Reddit “will not roll the feature out within your community again without having a way for you to opt out, and will provide you with ample notice and regular updates going forward.” The post also acknowledged that Reddit had sidestepped its “standard practice of 4 years” in rolling out a new feature and that it had “moved too quickly to bring the feature to general availability.”

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This is not the first time—nor will it likely be the last time—Reddit has pissed off its users. That said, it is a nice dose of vindication for anyone who’s ever warned against a crappy product or user experience rollout to no avail. 

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

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