The difficulty in deciding how to manage the coronavirus posts was exacerbated by a lack of clear advice and the conflicting needs of different users—some of whom have weddings planned imminently, and others who are just starting to plan. The moderators were keen to operate best practices from a public health perspective, but weren’t always sure how—especially when there was limited official health advice available. “Several of us have science backgrounds so we can moderate some content but none of us are pandemic experts,” Emilia says. “This is a wedding planning subreddit!”
They first automatically redirected all coronavirus-related posts to the pinned ‘Daily Discussion’ thread, but the automoderator didn’t catch every post and some people got upset when their posts were removed or redirected. “It sounds easy—all coronavirus threads in one place—but there were a lot of nuances we didn’t anticipate because we got so many different variations on the topic,” Emilia says.
By March 15, the moderators were struggling to keep up with demand and the public health situation in the US and Europe had changed significantly. The mods introduced a daily COVID-19 Megathread, which is now the first thing people see when they visit the subreddit. Comments are divided into months of the year, so members can easily find other wedding planners working to a similar timeline.
Although the moderators say that many subscribers have been kind and thoughtful to one another, the response from the community hasn’t always been positive. After all, most of the subreddit’s active users are currently planning weddings, and are having to face difficult decisions over what is supposed to be a joyful occasion. “Weddit as a community is going through a lot of emotions, and these emotions have changed over time as the situation has changed,” says Maeve. “Disbelief, sadness, and anger are three emotions we see a lot. Lots of anger.” Sometimes this gets directed at the moderators. “People upset or unclear about why their post was moved, upset about no megathread, upset about having a megathread, upset that we’re not explicitly saying you should postpone or cancel your wedding, upset that we’re allowing people to imply you should cancel your wedding, the whole gamut,” Emilia says.
A particularly controversial topic, especially when official advice on social distancing and gatherings was unclear, was whether couples should go ahead with their weddings or cancel. In one instance, a user whose comment had been deleted wrote to the mods that, “Blood is going to be on your hands if you continue to censor any dissent toward brides proudly refusing to cancel and in doing so, risking countless lives.” But in that case, the mods explain, they had removed the post because its language did not meet the subreddit’s number one rule of “constructive criticism and respect”—the user had told the person who posted to “get the fuck over themselves” and “fuck those bridezillas who think their wedding is worth people literally dying.”
Even apparently anodyne posts can cause schisms. In the past couple of weeks, many Wedditors have been sharing pictures of the dresses they didn’t get to wear in an attempt to lighten the mood and maintain a celebratory atmosphere. But dress pictures on r/weddingplanning have always been surprisingly divisive, with some users complaining that the subreddit is overwhelmed with dress posts and that the new wave of dress posts is just copycat spammers trying to reap karma.
It’s been a tough time for the moderators, who didn’t exactly expect to be sifting through posts about a pandemic when they took on the r/weddingplanning mantle. They all say that they are pleased to have the support of each other. Addy, who is also a moderator on some sport subreddits, says the vibe there is notably different: “There, it’s been quieter and more about finding anything to fill the unexpected gap in content, which is a huge contrast from dealing with the (very understandable) stress and crises on r/weddingplanning.” She says that r/weddingplanning is usually her “moderator oasis” compared to dealing with the rivalry, sexism and racism on the sport forums. “It’s so sad to now see r/weddingplanning as the more emotionally taxing place to moderate (although still extremely light on the bigotry, thankfully),” she says.