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AMAgeddon: Parts of Reddit go dark over dismissal of key admin

Key sections of online community Reddit, including one of the site's most popular drawcards, "Ask Me Anything", are being pulled from public view in protest of the alleged firing of one its key administrators.

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Reddit users are facing online walls after a number of subreddits were made private. Screenshot by Claire Reilly/CNET

Entire sections of Reddit are going dark as key subreddits are being made private in protest of the alleged firing of Victoria Taylor, one of the social news site's highest profile administrators.

Reddit users are reporting Taylor, the site's director of talent and a key administrator (known by the user handle /u/chooter), was fired without notice, leaving one of the site's most popular subreddits in turmoil. Reddit itself is underpinned by these subreddits -- user-moderated sections of the site labelled for discussion of particular interests and topics, such as /r/art and /r/movies.

Taylor oversaw the administration of the Ask Me Anything subreddit (/r/IAmA), a section that allows Reddit users to engage in a real-time Q&A with famous personalities such as Bill Gates, President Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Taylor's reported departure, which has been dubbed AMAgeddon, led other moderators of the marquee IAmA subreddit to switch the page's settings to private, rendering the Reddit userbase unable to view the page. Since then, dozens of other subreddits including /r/askreddit, /r/videos and /r/gaming -- each with several million subscribers -- have also been made private, instead re-directing readers to a static landing page.

Reddit lives and dies by the strength and support of its community. The website, which turned 10 years old in June, is one of the world's most popular online destinations, as both a user-generated source of links to stories around the Web as well as a discussion forum across almost any topic, including highly controversial subject matter.

In 2014, Reddit held a funding round that placed it at a valuation of $500 million. The conflict between becoming a reputable and valuable commercial operation while maintaining the goodwill of a community that believes in the sanctity of free speech is a delicate balance that could collapse at any time. Reddit itself gained popularity after Digg, a similar website launched six months before Reddit, made commercially driven changes that upset its community and triggered Digg's downfall and Reddit's rise.

Since being made private, a message from the moderators on the IAmA landing page now advises, "Due to internal administration reorganization at Reddit, /r/IAmA has temporarily been made private by the moderators. We will be using this time to restructure our process for AMAs."

Moderator of the /r/technology subreddit Gilgamesh has since posted to explain the take-down.

At approximately 5pm UTC, 1pm EST, on Thursday the 2nd of July, 2015, the moderators of /r/IAmA took their subreddit, which is one of the default set, private. This means that only a very small number of people (consisting of the moderators of /r/IAmA, as well as any pre-approved users) could view and post to the subreddit, making it for all intents and purposes shut down...

The mods of /r/IAmA had just found out that without prior warning, /u/chooter, or Victoria, had been released from her position at reddit. They felt that they, along with the other subreddits that host AMAs, should have been warned beforehand, if only so that they could have someone or something in place to handle the transition.

Key Reddit user and moderator Karmanaut joined the chorus of dissent saying the departure came without warning.

"Today, we learned that Victoria was unexpectedly let go from her position with Reddit," Karmanaut wrote. "We all had the rug ripped out from under us and feel betrayed."

In response to questions about why the IAmA subreddit had been made private, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian said, "We don't talk about specific employees," but reassured Reddit users that the site would continue to function normally.

"I'm here to triage AMA requests in the interim," he said. "We get that losing Victoria has a significant impact on the way you manage your community. I'd really like to understand how we can help solve these problems, because I know r/IAmA thrived before her and will thrive after.

"We're prepared to help coordinate and schedule AMAs...and many of the people who come on to do AMAs are excited to do them without assistance (most recently, the noteworthy Channing Tatum AMA)."

Ohanian went on to say, "We should have notified the mods sooner (after it happened), I admitted that, but we were busy handling the day's flow of AMAs and taking care of those AMA guests took priority."

Comments from other key moderators, however, contradicted Ohanian's comments about the continued smooth sailing of the site.

"I'm scrambling right now trying to get the AMAs for /r/books figured out," wrote moderator Chtorrr. "Right now I've got four authors who have scheduled AMAs and no f---ing way to contact them!"

A spokesperson for Reddit reiterated the site does not comment on individual employees but was able to "confirm that Victoria, who was the director of talent, is no longer with the company."

Update and correction at 10:00 p.m. PT: Comment from Reddit added. This story also previously referred to Victoria Taylor as director of communications. Reddit has advised that Taylor started under this title in 2013, however her title was changed to director of talent in recent months to reflect her role on AMAs.

Update at 12:55 p.m. PT July 4: Reddit interim CEO Ellen Pao told several news sites on July 3 that she was sorry about how Taylor's "transition" was handled.