'Inappropriate' Gabby Petito Awards force Reddit Moderators to Issue Apology

A group of moderators on Reddit have quit and issued an apology over a controversial series of awards issued to users engaged with a Gabby Petito forum on the discussion-based social media platform.

In a lengthy post, the remaining moderator team on the r/GabbyPetito thread acknowledged that the awards, which first appeared last week and featured a number of designs related to Petito and her interests, were both "tasteless" and "inappropriate."

Petito was reported missing by her parents after failing to return home from a road trip with her boyfriend Brian Laundrie. Her body was discovered in Wyoming last month with a coroner subsequently determining she died as a result of strangulation.

Laundrie, who is a person of interest in her killing, has been on the run from the authorities for nearly a month with his last known sighting occurring on September 14.

The details of the case have been the subject of much discussion on the Reddit forum with as many as 148,000 users engaging with r/GabbyPetito.

But while conspiracy theories are common enough on the platform, the online conversation took an unsavory turn after a series of awards appeared on the thread.

To the uninitiated, awards are commonplace on Reddit and primarily designed to be given to users as a reward and form of currency for making significant contributions to a particular debate. In this instance, the crux of the controversy was twofold.

Firstly, there was the design of the awards themselves which included images such as a set of mountains, a "road trippin" van similar to the one Petito travelled in, one featuring a woman taking a photograph, a "broken heart" and another designed around an FBI detective.

Secondly, the moderators faced accusations from users that they were benefiting from Petito's death and showing a lack of respect.

Responding at length, the group of remaining Reddit moderators apologized for the "tasteless" and "poorly worded" awards which they acknowledged were "tone deaf."

"We apologize to the memory of Gabrielle 'Gabby' Petito as well as to the Petito & Schmidt families," the post said.

"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."

"We would never wish to make light of a situation like this," they added. "We realize that a beloved person was murdered and many people now have a hole in their lives. Although we did not intend to exacerbate grief or trauma, we did, and we are deeply sorry for not realizing that in any stage that came before posting it for you."

The moderators rejected any suggestion they were in line to make financial gain as a result of the awards, explaining that such a claim dates back to a previous post from Reddit HQ which spoke of supporting the idea of moderators taking a percentage of the profit from giving out awards on the platform. Though discussed, this was never implemented and moderators on Reddit do not receive any financial compensation.

"It was not, nor has it ever been the intention of the moderators to make light of the senseless and tragic death," the statement said.

"Under no circumstances have we had any intention or interest in using Gabby's name, memory, or perceived likeness for financial gain. It is important to us that we are crystal clear when we say we have not made any money whatsoever from moderation of this sub Reddit, nor from the community awards."

Several moderators have stepped down from their roles with the sub, including the creator of the awards.

"The moderator who posted the awards felt terrible and not only stepped down but deleted their entire account," a single sentence in the lengthy apology noted.

Newsweek has contacted Reddit for comment.

Gabby Petito and the Reddit logo.
Gabby Petito being questioned by police/the Reddit logo - a group of moderators for the social media discussion site have been forced to quit and issue apologies over a series of awards issued amid the ongoing investigation into the killing of Petito. Yuri Nakao/Moab Police/Getty