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Reddit’s menswear hub is the latest casualty of its battle with moderators

Reddit may have won, but not without lasting damage to its communities


distorted reddit logo
Image Credits: TechCrunch

The widespread protests against Reddit’s API changes reached a boiling point last month after the company forcibly reopened r/malefashionadvice — the largest subreddit that stayed dark after the blackout — booted the moderators, and appointed new ones. 

The moderators of r/malefashionadvice (MFA) opted to keep the subreddit private after the blackout, despite warnings from Reddit to reopen it. When the moderators refused to comply, Reddit admins replaced the entire mod team with users who had little to no experience moderating fashion spaces. The subreddit has effectively fallen apart since the takeover. 

Remaining subreddit members are mourning the loss of the accessible fashion community that r/malefashionadvice once provided. Reddit’s apparent disregard for its moderators, many of whom spend hours a day shaping subreddit culture, has been at the center of the clash between the company and its users. Subreddits that provide community and resources, meanwhile, are crumbling without the moderators and core users that kept them alive. With over 5.5 million subscribers, r/malefashionadvice is the most prominent casualty in Reddit’s power struggle with its moderators. 

Derek Guy, the menswear writer known as dieworkwear, said that r/malefashionadvice has been “practically useless” since Reddit’s takeover. By pushing out moderators and alienating the power users who make up the core of these niche hobbyist communities, he said, Reddit is shutting down the few spaces that are welcoming to new hobbyists. 

“At the end of the day, all of these communities are held together by the quality of the enthusiasts — people who do this stuff for the love of it — and you can’t replicate nerds who spend hours every day moderating debates about pants,” Guy tweeted

In June, thousands of subreddits went dark to protest Reddit’s API pricing, which effectively shut down popular third-party apps like Apollo because of the high fees. Participating subreddits went private during the blackout, preventing users from posting or commenting, and shutting out non-subscribers from seeing the community entirely. The blackout lasted for 48 hours, with many subreddits opting to stay dark until Reddit rolls back its API changes. The protest has been largely led by unpaid moderators, who rely on third-party apps for moderation tools that Reddit lacks. 

Since the blackout, Reddit has threatened to remove moderators who continue to participate in the protest, and has replaced top moderators in a slew of popular subreddits. Users in r/SubredditDrama and r/ModCoord are keeping track of subreddits undergoing “hostile takeovers,” including r/MusicTheory, r/Diving, r/Snackexchange, r/spotted, r/beyondthebump, r/Formula1, r/2meirl42meirl4meirl, r/Canning, and r/Piracy

The former top moderator of r/beyondthebump, a subreddit for new parents, said they believed their removal was in retaliation for shutting down the subreddit during the blackout. 

“I believe that even smaller moderators will be removed by the admin team over time,” they wrote in a r/ModCoord post. “Rather than being targeted, I believe that reddit saw the opportunity to remove me and took it.”

A spokesperson for Reddit said that the company is enforcing the “moderator Code of Conduct,” and if mods “abandon” a community, Reddit will replace them with new mods. Public subreddits that have been indefinitely made private are considered “abandoned,” and Reddit has a practice of “reactivating private, high-subscriber communities that are being ‘camped’ on.” The Code of Conduct exists to ensure that mods aren’t acting against the interests of their community members, the spokesperson said. 

“It’s also about protecting our users’ right to assemble and discuss topics they’re passionate about,” the statement to TechCrunch continued. “Redditors want to reddit, and mods want to mod. We want mods who want to mod to be able to do so.” 

Protesting subreddits that went dark before Reddit forcibly opened them, like r/malefashionadvice, have pushed users to migrate to Discord and Substack to maintain their communities during the ongoing protest. 

“Men’s fashion has gotten more expensive, the designs have gotten more conceptual. It’s just a less friendly environment to the guy who’s just trying to figure out how to dress in the office, and I think that’s terrible,” Guy told TechCrunch. “The loss of MFA is part of a larger development online of making hobbies less accessible for people who are just starting out.” 

Unlike many fashion spaces online, r/malefashionadvice did not revolve around high-end, avant garde designs. Though many of the most popular posts portrayed users in very sophisticated, tasteful outfits, the majority of threads revolved around teaching guys how to dress for everyday life. It was one of the few fashion forums that incentivized constructive criticism and discouraged snark. In an increasingly snarky social media landscape, earnest communities like r/malefashionadvice are sorely needed to “make spaces feel welcoming to noobs,” Guy said. 

One Reddit user described r/malefashionadvice’s default style recommendations as a “very specific blend of approachable and normie, but also in line with contemporary trends.”

How to make a personal catalog of all your clothes using iOS 16 stickers.
byu/peoplearentmean inmalefashionadvice

Other subreddits criticized r/malefashionadvice as “basic” — the default advice of pairing Uniqlo shirts with Clarks boots was a running joke both in and out of the subreddit — but as Guy pointed out, the “basic” uniform was inexpensive without looking cheap. 

“It was the only forum where, if you were a guy and you have just no clue about anything about clothing, you could go there and find a sidebar full of useful resources,” Guy continued. “And you could ask questions, and very informed people with sophisticated knowledge and taste would help you.”

On July 1, r/malefashionadvice went private. Two weeks later, Reddit admins requested that moderators open the subreddit within three days, or the company will remove them. Reddit removed the moderators on July 20, and then posted a call for new moderators. 

“We more or less have been expecting the removal for the past few days,” a moderator identified as “Walker” told The Verge last month.

The call for new moderators was heavily trolled by Reddit users. Comments applying for the vacant position, as archived on r/SubredditDrama, accused Reddit of wanting “fresh free labour to replace the old unpaid serfs,” and vowed that “this community will not accept scab mods.” 

“I’ve never moderated anything in my life and I dress like a toddler, please make me a mod I promise that I’ll eat the boot and not just lick it,” another commenter said. 

The moderators eventually appointed by Reddit have controversial post histories. Under the post announcing the new moderators, former r/malefashionadvice moderator GloriousStonerHoes pointed out that one of the appointed moderators had been banned from the subreddit multiple times. In the now-deleted comment, which has been archived in another post on r/SubredditDrama, the former moderator questioned why two of the new moderators were selected despite never posting on r/malefashionadvice before. 

“MFA used to be a pretty tight-knit community where the moderators were not ‘power mods’ — most only modded mfa, a few modded one or two other fashion-related subs,” GloriousStonerHoes said. 

He also noted that one of the newly appointed mods had made racist and xenophobic comments in r/britishcolumbia. That user has since been removed as a moderator of r/malefashionadvice. 

Another former moderator known as trend_set_go criticized the new appointments as “peak sus.” 

“This is a textbook definition of deposing old guard with someone who knows nothing of the history of the community,” trend_set_go said. 

Now that the subreddit is open again, the r/malefashionadvice community is protesting the new moderator appointments by relentlessly trolling mod posts. Under a daily thread about fashion advice, a user asked, “what pair of shoes goes best with a black t shirt and slim fit chinos that i just pissed five minutes ago?” 

Multiple Reddit-appointed moderators appeared to quit, or were removed, from r/malefashionadvice’s mod team. The community is now unmoderated, except for two bot accounts. Baffled users who weren’t up to date on the power struggle have asked the community to fill them in. 

“What happened here?” one user asked in a post this week. 

What happened here?
byu/horganzola inmalefashionadvice

Migrating to the other menswear subreddits wasn’t an option, since those spaces revolve around more specific, high-end styles. Reddit user zerg1980 commented that r/malefashion, for example, “wouldn’t really help someone trying to dress better for work or for going out to dive bars.” 

Guy described r/malefashionadvice as a “feeder” subreddit. Most fashion spaces are geared toward specific styles, from obscure streetwear brands to bespoke tailored suits to high-end Japanese denim. It’s difficult to wade through the sheer amount of niche discussions online when you’re just starting out, he said. General forums like r/malefashionadvice provide spaces for beginners to figure out what they like before they eventually migrate to more niche styles. 

Users discussed forming a new subreddit, but others pointed out that the core of the community — who were well-versed in men’s fashion and could guide other users — were gone for good. The power users who were the most active, and typically the most helpful, would be hesitant to start another subreddit “because their problem is with Reddit,” Guy said. 

Many subreddits are instead migrating to Discord. But Discord essentially functions as a chatroom, not as a forum, and sorts discussion in chronological order instead of vote count. Though topics in r/malefashionadvice’s Discord server are organized into different channels, advice and conversations can be lost in the countless messages. Reddit’s wealth of information is so vast that it’s often regarded as a better search engine than Google. Searching through Discord threads, on the other hand, is far more difficult than looking for information on Reddit. 

“We are creating an environment where it’s very difficult for someone to get into this hobby because the information has become squirreled away,” Guy continued. “These forums have died. They’re shifted to Discord, which is not searchable.” 

Former r/malefashionadvice moderator GloriousStonerHoes told TechCrunch that the subreddit’s Discord server is highly organized, and that Discord includes native features that were only available on Reddit by using third-party apps. The server’s questions and advice channel, for example, is a series of forum-like threads that are tagged as “Recommendations,” “Wardrobe overhaul,” “Dress code check,” “ID’ing items,” and more.

“On Discord, you can search through messages from specific users, in specific channels, or from a specific time, which was a feature that was only possible on Reddit through third-party services,” he said.

Those third-party services depended on the analytics and data collection platform Pushshift, which Reddit banned earlier this year because the site violated Reddit’s updated Data API terms.

Reddit became so useful as a search tool because posts are indexed into Google, GloriousStonerHoes said, but its native search feature was “notoriously useless.” Most users instead used Google to search for information, and “appending ‘malefashionadvice’ to the end.” Discord messages aren’t indexed, which is a “major drawback,” so the server’s mods use the bot Answer Overflow to index threads. The mods also run a Substack of long-from content contributed by the community.

“I’ll also mention that since starting the Discord, we’ve had an explosion of growth, and the Discord server has roughly 5x-15x the activity of the subreddit depending on the day, in terms of messages sent,” GloriousStonerHoes said. “About 90% of our regular contributors are on Discord now, and many people have become regular contributors who were not on Reddit, and they have been great additions to the MFA community.”

The discontent is not exclusive to r/malefashionadvice. Reddit stamped out its user revolt, as Gizmodo reported, but in its Pyrrhic victory, may have irrevocably damaged its relationship with its users. Many subreddits just aren’t the same. Even though it didn’t capitulate to user demands, the site faces a worse prospect: losing relevance. 

Users pointed out that the replacement moderators of these subreddits had little, if any, expertise in the topics they were tasked with moderating. One of the new moderators of r/Diving was torn apart for only having 21 dives under their belt — an amateur count compared to the hundreds of diving experiences that the previous moderators had. Some questioned if the moderator could provide accurate and safe guidance with such limited experience.

Niche hobby spaces depend on power users who are willing to put in the time and effort to cultivate a community. Without knowledgeable moderators to guide discussions, subreddits are overtaken by “useless posts,” Guy said. Even if they don’t actively oppose Reddit’s API policy, if the most active users on a subreddit only see unhelpful or spam content, they won’t come back. 

“So you then lose the second tier of people who don’t have a strong opinion about the original management issue, but they need to get something out of it. You only go back to the community if the discussion is interesting,” Guy said. “And if the discussion is no longer interesting, then you leave, and then as a result, the discussions get even worse because you’ve lost the second tier of high power users.” 

The summer protests against Reddit may not have swayed Reddit’s policy changes. But they undoubtedly made an impact on the sense of community that once made Reddit so popular. Reddark, a site that tracks protesting subreddits, reports that at least 1,800 subreddits are still private or restricted, including r/fitness, r/bestof, r/meirl, r/curlyhair, r/streetwear, r/OnlyFans101 and r/ZeroWaste. Many subreddits are continuing to protest by going dark every Tuesday. In comments on r/ModCoord, users noted that their favorite subreddits are becoming flooded with spam and irrelevant posts because the moderators have stopped stepping in. Others said they’ve seen a drop in engagement on posts, and a decline in fresh content. 

This week, a moderator of the still-dark r/Googlemaps asked for advice after receiving an ultimatum message from Reddit. User Sbatio told them that it’s their decision to comply by reopening the subreddit, but that Reddit as a site is “permanently damaged.” 

“Reddit sucks since this all went down,” Sbatio replied. “They won but it’s dead.” 

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