A lot of social networking services have rolled out new or upgraded features to address the new living conditions that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on all of us. Many involve increasing group size limits or opening up new channels for communication. In that vein, popular social news aggregation network Reddit introduced a new Start Chatting feature that aimed to create a new and fun chatting experience with like-minded people. Unsurprisingly, the network pulled it out within just 24 hours after an angry mob of users and especially moderators gathered at its gates.
Start Chatting is Reddit’s version of Speed Dating and Match Making rolled into one. You’d be grouped with a handful of random people from a common subreddit where you can chat in real-time about shared interests related to that sub. What Reddit didn’t make clear, however, was that subreddit mods practically had no control over those groups and those mods were understandably unamused.
Reddit VP of Product and Community ggAlex (Alex L.) explained that the hats are moderated by Reddit’s own Safety Teams but users were not aware of that. Moderators also felt more than just slighted at Reddit implementing a big new feature without giving them any amount of control to keep their communities safe and harmonious.
Compounding matters was the fact that Start Chatting bypassed rules that subreddits impose on their members, allowing abusers to take advantage of the confusion and chaos that Start Chatting would have allowed. Reddit initially excluded certain “high-risk” subs from the feature but a bug made that moot anyway. The network rolled out the option for moderators to opt out of Start Chatting but by then it was already too late.
Reddit decided to simply yank out the feature completely before matters got out of hand. It apologized for not testing the feature more widely, which was its usual practice in the past. It was apparently in a hurry to bring a new feature in light of the coronavirus situation but obviously didn’t think matters through, especially in how they communicated the feature to moderators and users alike.