Moderators of a Gabby Petito subreddit stepped down and apologized following backlash over 'tone-deaf' themed awards

  • Moderators of a subreddit dedicated to Gabby Petito have apologized after launching themed awards.

  • The awards included references to vans, mountains, and being "basically a detective."

  • Several moderators have stepped down in light of the backlash they received.

A group of moderators of a subreddit dedicated to Gabby Petito's case have apologized while others have stepped down following backlash over their introduction of "community awards" themed around Petito, the aspiring van-life influencer who was found dead last month.

Reddit's community awards feature, which was introduced two years ago, enables moderators of certain subreddits to create awards with customized names, descriptions, and images. Users can purchase awards with "coins" - a virtual currency which can be bought from Reddit - and give them to other users for a specific post, where the award is displayed.

Last Friday, the moderators of r/GabbyPetito announced they were introducing awards. The original post appears to have been deleted, but has been archived and made publicly available through Wayback Machine. It said the "original and specific" awards were designed "with Gabby's essence and vibe at the forefront of our minds."

The imagery used for the awards badges included a mountain, a van, and an illustration of a woman that many Redditors suggested looked similar to a picture of Petito that was widely circulated following her disappearance. One was called "Basically A Detective."

As Insider previously reported, the r/GabbyPetito subreddit was created on September 13 - two days after Petito's parents filed a missing person report after her fiance, Brian Laundrie, returned from their cross-country road trip alone. Subreddit members discuss the case, post updates on developments, and investigate "clues." Speaking to Insider last month, a moderator said the subreddit's growth was "unseen," with the forum currently hosting 148,000 members.

Petito's body was found on September 19 and the cause of death was ruled strangulation earlier this week. Laundrie was reported missing on September 17, after the FBI declared him a person of interest in the case, and there is an ongoing manhunt for him. Since Petito's case came into the public eye last month, concerns have been raised about the social media fervor surrounding it - especially its growth among amateur "true crime" detectives on TikTok.

When the awards were announced, several users said in comments that they would be turning their back on the subreddit, with a top comment on the original post describing the awards as "incredibly distasteful" and "tacky."

Other users accused the moderators of trying to "profit" off Petito's death. If a user in a subreddit spends "coins" to give an award to another player, 20% of the coins they spend will be placed into a "community bank," which can then be spent by moderators of the subreddit on making mod-exclusive awards, which only they can bestow on users of their subreddit. Moderators denied they would have profited from people buying the awards in a 3,000-word apology posted on Monday.

The apology post also said several moderators, including the one who originally posted about the awards, have stepped down. In the post, they said they'd "hoped to honor Gabby's optimistic, adventurous spirit by creating personalized icons for awards," but that they now see how the awards were "tasteless" and "tone-deaf."

The incident has since been shared on r/SubredditDrama, which has over 800,000 members and describes itself as a space for users to talk about fights and "other dramatic happenings" on Reddit communities. The post has received over 1,000 comments, with some people saying it showed true crime communities are "toxic."

"All of this because they're treating a real tragedy as some kind of fictional TV show," the top-voted comment, with nearly 3,000 upvotes, reads.

Neither moderators of the subreddit nor a spokesperson for Reddit responded to Insider's requests for comment.

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider's Digital Culture team here.

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