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Reddit pulls back chat rooms after angering moderators

The feature was live for just a day.
Karissa Bell, @karissabe
April 30, 2020
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INDIA - 2019/07/26: In this photo illustration a popular American social news aggregation application Reddit logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SOPA Images via Getty Images

Just one day after launching a new chat room feature, Reddit has reversed course and pulled it entirely following an outcry from the site’s moderators. 

The company yanked “Start Chatting,” which aimed to create small, randomized chat rooms within the site’s subreddits, on Thursday, Reddit confirmed in a statement. The company said the move was in response to negative feedback from its users and moderators.

"Reddit’s users, moderators and communities are at the core of every product decision we make, and our intention in rolling out ‘Start Chatting’ was to give Redditors a new avenue to connect with each other during these difficult times. Given the issues and concerns expressed by our users and moderators throughout the last 24 hours, we’ve made the decision to disable Start Chatting so we can reassess our rollout plan and evolve the product to meet the needs of our community.”

Though Reddit claimed reaction to early tests of Start Chatting had received positive feedback, the launch appears to have taken many of the site’s users by surprise. Soon after it was introduced Wednesday, Reddit moderators flooded the comments of the announcement post with confusion and frustration. 

Many were worried Start Chatting, which moderators would have no control or visibility into, would draw the kind of abuse they work hard to keep out of their online communities. Other moderators overseeing subreddits that reach vulnerable groups, such as survivors of abuse, were concerned their groups would be targeted by trolls or scammers. (The company’s VP of Product, Alex Le, later clarified that the feature had never been enabled for many of these groups, even though the option to join had appeared due to a “bug.”)

“At this time, r/science would prefer to have this feature disabled in our subreddit because it undermines our goal of having serious, strongly-moderated discussions,” one moderator wrote in a comment.

“We already have major problems with scammers using chat and PMs to swindle people who are already in financial crisis and we can't even get Reddit to ban those people after repeated reports (not that it would be hard for someone to change accounts considering that it takes weeks or months for reports to be examined). Even our unofficial IRC chatroom is better moderated than anything that is possible on Reddit.” wrote another, who oversees r/personalfinance and r/Debt.  

Also at issue: that Reddit opted to roll out the feature to subreddits with no notice to moderators and no ability to opt-out. 

“While I understand that you all are trying to further encourage live chats so that redditors can do something positive in light of the pandemic, the way you have rolled this out, without notice, without previous input from moderators, and without the ability to opt-out, is not it,” another moderator  commented. 

It’s unclear if Reddit plans to re-launch the feature at a later date. 

“We are committed to transparent and direct communication with our users, and will use this opportunity to seek community input, collect additional feedback, and build an experience that adds value and supports our communities," the company said.

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