Earlier this week, Fox News host Jesse Watters did a segment on “THE WAR AGAINST WORKING” in which he brought on a Redditor named Doreen Ford, who he described as “the person who operates” r/antiwork, a labor-focused subreddit with 1.7 million members. Watters began the interview: “Doreen, why do you like the idea of being home, not working, but still getting paid by corporate America?”
Ford explained that people in the anti-work movement “still want to do things, but they want to do things where they feel rewarded and in a good spot in life and where their job respects them.”
The interview was a typical Fox News ambush. Ford made reasonable and clear arguments for what many members of r/antiwork want, but Watters invited her on only to ridicule the notion that anyone would be “against working,” not to have a substantive interview. She had wandered into a den of wolves and didn’t realize anything bad was happening even as she was being eaten alive. To Watters, Ford was everything conservatives have been warning about the Woke Leftists Who Are Destroying America and want free things from the government.
“Are you encouraging people to be lazy?” Watters asked. "I think laziness is a virtue in a society where people want you to be productive 24/7," Ford responded. Later, Watters asked Ford, who said she is a 30-year-old dog walker, if she “aspires to do anything more than dog-walking, or is that your pinnacle?” When Ford mentions that she’d like to teach philosophy (a field of study likened to the mythical "underwater basket weaving" that conservatives have endlessly memed as being expensive, useless, and without job prospects), Watters literally laughs. “Philosophy. OK,” Watters said. “I would love to take your class, Doreen. I would just be taking notes the whole time and, you know what, professor is a very similar schedule to something you’re imagining, so it might work perfectly for you.”
“REDDIT THREAD: ‘WORK IS POINTLESS, HUMILIATING,’” a chyron below showed.
The Fox News interview was an inflection point for the antiwork subreddit, which went from a small community to one of the fastest-growing subreddits and now has 1.7 million members. Predictably, these members have different views on what it means to be “anti-work.” Some on the subreddit want to advocate for a universal basic income, some rail against capitalism more broadly, some just hate their shitty boss, most want to strengthen the organized labor movement, some just want to be paid a decent wage and be treated with respect.
Most of the viral posts on the subreddit over the last few months have been from workers who have told their bosses to fuck off, people calling for solidarity during unionization efforts and strikes, people who have automated their jobs and used the free time to pursue their hobbies, or posts about worker exploitation.
A few times the members of the subreddit also organized labor actions that had consequences off Reddit. Members organized a boycott on Black Friday and the spamming of Kellogg’s job portal with fake applications for “scab” positions to replace striking workers during a work stoppage at its cereal plants last year. Users also spammed receipt printers around the world with “anti-work” manifestos.
Since the Fox News interview, however, the main topic of conversation on the subreddit has been the interview itself, who “owns” the subreddit, the drama associated with the fallout from the interview, brigading from other subreddits, and censorship of posts about the Fox News interview.
Many people are mad that Ford, who is a moderator called u/abolishwork on the subreddit, was painted as “the person who operates” the subreddit. They’re mad that Ford did the interview with Fox News at all, over the objection of other moderators and without consulting the community. They are angry that Ford did an interview with a media platform that is predisposed to be biased against a movement that’s broadly anti-capitalistic, leftist, and pro workers’ rights. And they’re mad that the movement—which includes many “essential” and blue-collar workers who put in 40-, 60-, or 80-hour weeks just to make ends meet—was so easily able to be portrayed as lazy communists who want to stay home all day and get free stuff from the government.
“There seems to be a clear separation between the users who think this subreddit is about: stagnating wages, improving workers’ rights, highlighting illegal or abusive practices, exploring how to best raise issues at work or legally. Meanwhile, the moderators seem to have created the subreddit to discuss: abolishing coercive labor and capitalism, universal basic income, anarchism,” a viral post from Wednesday reads. “I don’t understand how this sub can continue without reconciling these differences.”
Recent posts include:
- “If the Fox News interview has you concerned about Antiwork, then congratulations, you now know how it feels to be weaponized against your allies.”
- “Mods - we deserve an explanation.
- “Mods delete petition with 100 upvotes to remove mod.”
- “Hey Fox News Mod, it’s ok.”
- “sorry doesn’t cut it — mods are not the leaders of this sub”
- “Antiwork needs to decide what this subreddit is about”
- “Posting again as it was taken down. Mods need to stop removing fox news posts. This is the wrong form of damage control and is an even worse look for the sub, you are actively harming your community, and it is telling that the mods are currently only looking to save ice, not the community.”
In addition to the philosophical differences, the subreddit has fallen prey to more run-of-the-mill Reddit drama in the aftermath of the Fox News interview. This includes mod infighting and power struggles, posts and comments about the interview being deleted, and the ensuing cries of censorship associated with this, and so on and so forth.
A current member of the moderation team, who asked to remain anonymous because the mod team has decided not to do any press, told Motherboard that many of the removed comments were transphobic (Ford is trans), and said that the community has its work cut out for it.
“As you know, the head moderator went on Fox News, which in hindsight wasn’t the best thing to do. We’ve had a lot of backlash from that. She did the interview and posts started flooding in, lots of transphobia and harassing content. So we removed those posts,” they said. “While the posts weren’t harassing, the comments were. The comments were flooding in at a rapid rate. We tried to remove spots, but it became so much, we delayed posts coming about it coming in to quell harassment. Once we couldn’t do that, some moderators, not me, voted for it to go private. It went private while we sorted everything out. We lost some mods in the process.”
“I think half the mod team didn’t know about Fox News interview. I didn’t know until a hour an hour before,” they added. “It’s gonna be up to the community to resolve this. Abolish is no longer modding with us. A couple others aren’t modding with us anymore. No quick fix. It’s going to have to be something that runs its course. In other sub Reddits, people are sympathetic with everything that’s going on. It could be the death of anti-work, but that remains to be seen. Our focal point is to get sub back to full running platform. It’s on restricted right now, we’re about to have that go live right now with a few restrictions like crowd control mode.”
Essentially, the antiwork subreddit is going through what many major subreddits have gone through; the difference here is that the stakes are possibly higher: The antiwork subreddit was growing into something of an actual political force, having organized real-world actions. This doesn’t mean that the movement or subreddit will die, but it does mean they could fracture, and that its members are currently distracted with infighting and not, say, the labor conditions of their fellow workers.
There are no signs that the situation will imminently improve, though some concrete steps have been taken. Ford was removed as a moderator of the subreddit. Ford did not respond to a request for comment. The subreddit was also taken private and temporarily shut down to new posts while moderators tried to figure out how to deal with the situation. There was also a highly downvoted “statement” from a moderator called Kimezukae Thursday morning that doesn’t bode particularly well. Kimezukae says that they have been a moderator for only a few days, have done still-to-be-released interviews with three major international media outlets, including the New York Times, and are now somehow speaking for the rest of the moderators: “Hello, I’m a 21 year old male, long-term unemployed and an Anarchist," they posted. “I was randomly invited [to be a moderator] by a former mod that quit 1 week ago.”
The top upvoted comment on this “statement” is: “Can the mods please stop trying to represent us. You are not the leaders of the movement nor spokesperson. You are solely here to keep this sub a civil place.”
Lauren Kaori Gurley contributed reporting.