Moderators of a subreddit dedicated to Gabby Petito have quit and apologized in the wake of massive backlash against personalized community awards that many felt were insensitive and exploitative.
Petito vanished during a cross-country road trip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, this summer. The 22-year-old was declared missing on Sept. 11. Eight days later, her remains were discovered in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. Her death was ruled a homicide and police sought Laundrie for questioning. By then Laundrie, who’d returned to Florida without her and refused to speak to authorities, disappeared during what his parents said was a hike in a local park. He remains at large.
Prior to her disappearance, Petito and Laundrie documented their travels online, posting idyllic images and video of happy times on the road in their van. After she vanished, it would emerge that those images hid a darker truth. On Aug. 12, police were summoned after a passerby saw Laundrie hitting Petito. Bodycam footage showed her tearfully telling authorities she was the initial aggressor and that Laundrie grabbed her face, but didn’t hit her, CNN reports.
The case has generated intense interest, including from online communities. In less than a month, the Gabby Petito subreddit has racked up 150,000 subscribers. Subscribers share updates, tips, and discuss the case.
Last week, moderators unveiled the personalized awards dedicated to Petito. The awards included a van captioned “trippin,'” a mountain scene, an image captioned “basically a detective,” and one that closely resembled a well-known picture of Petito, among others.
The awards immediately created a furor. A few liked them, but more felt they were tasteless at best and profiteering at worst. (Mods say the latter belief is a misconception.)
Many pointed out that images of the van and the mountains represent the location and circumstances of Petito’s death.
The awards were taken down after 10 hours, mods say.
Several moderators issued separate apologies. One of those apologies has generated 1,600 comments thus far. A few mods quit. Those remaining took a few days off posting to discuss the issue, then issued a 3,300-word “formal apology” that included an extremely detailed timeline, explanation, and pictures of the awards.
“We apologize to the memory of Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito as well as to the Petito & Schmidt families,” they wrote. “We extend our humble apologies to the r/gabbypetito community for failing to exercise appropriate judgment and for our failure to offer concise and transparent information when responding to questions, confusion, and rightful criticism.”
Moderators acknowledged that the awards were “tasteless,” but said that they were to profit off them was a “misconception” caused by “the poor choice in wording on the ‘about Reddit awards’ page.”
They promised profusely to do better in the future, such as by seeking “community feedback on sub-wide ideas,” but said they understand if people decide to leave the sub.
Their apology, which has nearly 900 comments (excepting those mods deleted), has since been locked.
Many commenters thought the entire thing had been blown out of proportion and that there was no way to appease everyone.
“Y’all bitched, whined, and cried about wanting a real apology. Well here it is! The Mods GIVE YOU ONE, and I’ll be damned if you’re still not happy? Poor Mods can’t win for losing,” one redditor commented on the formal apology.
The controversy soon made its way to Subreddit Drama. More than 1,000 have commented on the post there. The commentary is similar to those on the formal apology.
“Oh my fucking god they signed their usernames in fucking cursive,” a redditor commented, referring to pictures of mods’ usernames and signatures included in the apology.
“Personalised [sic] awards are meh to me, I don’t get why adults care but for positive subs I do get they’re just for fun,” another said. “But a sub about a murdered girl. Who the fuck wakes up one day and thinks about creating awards for it?”
Some opined that the subreddit itself is an exercise in futility by a bunch of tragedy groupies.
“All of these people think they’re more important than they are. And all of this because they’re treating a real tragedy as some kind of fictional tv show,” said one.