Reddit faces content quality concerns after its Great Mod Purge


Reddit Snoo mascots, with one having Xs for eyes

Aurich Lawson

Did you know that improper food canning can lead to death? Botulism—the result of bacteria growing inside improperly treated canned goods—is rare, but people can die from it. In any case, they’ll certainly get very ill.

The dangers of food canning were explained to me clearly, succinctly, and with cited sources by Brad Barclay and someone going by Dromio05 on Reddit (who asked to withhold their real name for privacy reasons). Both were recently moderators on the r/canning subreddit and hold science-related master’s degrees.

Yet Reddit removed both moderators from their positions this summer because Reddit said they violated its Moderator Code of Conduct. Mods had refused to end r/canning’s protest against Reddit and its new API fees; the protest had made the entire subreddit “read only.” Now, the ousted mods fear that r/canning could become subject to unsafe advice that goes unnoticed by new moderators. “My biggest fear with all this is that someone will follow an unsafe recipe posted on the sub and get badly sick or killed by it,” Dromio05 told me.

Reddit’s infamous API changes have ushered in a new era for the site, and there are still questions about what this next chapter will look like. Ars Technica spoke with several former mods that Reddit booted—and one who was recently appointed by Reddit—about concerns that relying on replacement mods with limited subject matter expertise could result in the spread of dangerous misinformation.

Questions about replacement mods’ expertise

When Reddit announced it would abruptly start charging significant fees for access to its API, many third-party Reddit apps announced they would close (and many have). Some Reddit users, including mods, also quit Reddit. In addition, Reddit revoked the mod badges from long-time moderators and subsequently sought replacements, though some expelled mods worry that the replacements weren’t carefully selected or trained.

Barclay told me he moderated r/canning for three years before Reddit nuked his badge. He noted various canning misconceptions, from thinking the contents of a concave lid are safe to eat to believing you don’t need to apply heat to food in jars.

He claimed that some new r/canning moderators appointed by Reddit had previously shown a lack of canning expertise before getting the new volunteer gig. For example, Barclay pointed to one mod recommending “citizen science,” saying they would use a temperature data logger to “begin conducting experiments to determine what new canning products are safe.” Reddit later made that user an r/canning mod.

Dromio05 showed me several posts he deemed questionable since Reddit took away his own mod badge. For example, this post shares a link to an article about “rebel canners,” which Dromio05 argues “gives a public platform to people who openly encourage methods and recipes that are known to be unsafe, like canning milk and open kettle canning.” The post is labeled unsafe, but Dromio05 would have removed the link to the article.

Another cited example is this recipe for canned sauce. It includes already-canned tomatoes, which experts like the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) recommend against, as there’s no safe tested process for this. The recipe also includes nuts, though the USDA doesn’t have any recommendations for canning nuts, and NCHFP and other experts advise against canning any nuts besides green peanuts.

The new mod team for r/canning declined to comment on this story.

There are many schools of thought around any broad topic such as canning, of course, and the former canning mods I spoke with had slightly different standards for whether or not a post could be considered safe enough for the subreddit. What’s critical for Reddit’s content quality is not that moderators adopt identical philosophies but that they are equipped to facilitate healthy and safe discussions and debates that benefit the community.

Newly implemented replacement mods represent a fraction of the over 50,000 moderators Reddit says it has. But the hastiness with which these specific replacement mods were ushered in, and the disposal of respected, long-time moderators, raises questions about whether Reddit prioritized reopening subreddits to get things back to normal instead of finding the best people for the volunteer jobs.


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