The short-lived tale of Reddit’s “chat room feature”
In recent days, where loneliness seems to be a major cause of concern shrouding our ‘socially distant’ lives, a number of initiatives have been taken to fill in that void. One such initiative was taken by ‘the front page of the internet- Reddit,’ to get people with similar tastes connected with one another.The platform announced a brand new chat room feature called “start chatting” in the subreddits, which was not only aimed at increasing user time on the platform but also encouraging interaction among st people with common interests. After all, in the past, similar types of chat rooms were considered to be the biggest ‘fad’ and the most popular way to get connected; something, that reddit recently tried to reinvent onto its platform with the modern twist.
However, the dream soon turned into a nightmare, after numerous errors were made by the platform during the initial roll out of the function. A major bug that haunted the entire site caused the “start chatting” button to appear on all subeditors, even when it didn’t serve any function. “If you dismiss the banner in 3 communities where the feature is active on desktop web or android, then the small button you’re seeing appears on all communities. But importantly, for all support communities, the button does nothing. Your users could never enter chats for this feature even in the rare case they saw the button. We are actively fixing this now. The feature is being rolled back in a matter of a few hours and the button will be removed,” said Alex Le, Reddit’s vice president of product and community. However, the new feature rolled out by the digital platform was not only plagued by the site-wide bugs but also by criticism from fellow subreddit moderators. The reason being, moderators were neither given an option to opt out of these chat rooms nor the authority to monitor and run them, as responsibility was bestowed by reddit upon the platform’s own administrators.
Thus, this invited a lot of heat from the moderators, as there were concerns that the new “start chatting” could potentially expose the closed-knit communities to outside trolls and fraudsters. Further, most of the moderators showcasing their concerns were from the groups that give voices to victims of sexual and other forms of assaults;people who really need to stay behind the cloak of anonymity to feel safe. The concerns were further fueled by the instances from the past, wherein, reports launched against similar fraudsters took weeks and months to get properly accessed by the platform.“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,” said the community moderator of r/personal finance and r/debt. Another reason that irked the moderators was that Reddit had promised them the authority to shape their own communities, something at which it had failed time in and time again. After all, all the moderators invest end number of hours working on their community’s growth without ever expecting any kind of financial remuneration; thus, they at least expect to be given authority of their own communities.
Reddit has since confirmed in a statement that they have disabled the button, after their initial roll out didn’t turn out as earlier planned. “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 roll out plan and evolve the product to meet the needs of our community,” said the social giant in its statement. However, the popular verdict is that both the moderators as well as the community members would be better off without the feature, and if they still have to co-exist with it, then the moderators should have the authority pertaining to it.