Reddit protests cause blackouts onsite

Changes to the Reddit API have caused backlash and moderators shut down subreddits for 48 hours in protest.
12 June 2023

Reddit’s API changes might wipe that smile away… Source: Shutterstock

  • Reddit API changes cause backlash.
  • At least 3,500 subreddits are down.
  • The protest will last at least 24 hours.

Communities on Reddit have “gone dark” today in protest of the site’s decision to monetize access to its data. More than 3,000 subreddits have joined the protest, and will go “private” today, preventing anyone outside the community seeing their posts.

The action protests forthcoming changes to the site’s API, which lets other companies use reddit data in their own products and services.

The changes will introduce charges for “premium access,” effectively destroying third-party Reddit apps like Apollo, which would have to charge about $5/user every month just to pay the fees to Reddit, according to Apollo’s developer Christian Selig.

According to Reddit, the changes come as a result of the clash between the social network and AI companies that have used huge amounts of data from Reddit to train their systems.

“The Reddit corpus of data is really valuable,” Steve Huffman, founder and chief executive of Reddit, told the New York Times in April. “But we don’t need to give all of that value to some of the largest companies in the world for free.”

However, popular opinion is that the goal is to shut down third-party sites like Apollo. Reddit’s mobile app only launched in 2016, after third-party services had dominated the market for mobile use of the site. Realistically, this source of competition is as much a motivator as anything.

In a post to the website on Friday, Reddit chief executive Steve Huffman said it “needs to be a self-sustaining business” and addressed the blackout.

“We respect when you and your communities take action to highlight the things you need, including, at times, going private,” he said.

“We are all responsible for ensuring Reddit provides an open, accessible place for people to find community and belonging.”

Steve Huffman commented on the Reddit API protest.

Steve Huffman commented on the Reddit API protest. Source: Zach Gibson / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

However, Reddit is reliant on community moderation. The shutdown of 3,500 subreddits (and counting!) will significantly harm the site’s traffic. Mods might spend hours a day ensuring the posts in their subreddit fit guidelines, unpaid, but aren’t charged hosting fees for the communities that are set up.

The protest is planned to last for two days, although some are saying that it could continue indefinitely – or until Reddit backtracks.

Why is the Reddit API protest effective?

When Elon Musk took over Twitter, there was talk of a mass exodus from the platform in retaliation against his acquisition (we covered it here). Beyond that, every time a site changes its interface, the timeline fills with indignant users threatening to delete their accounts or move to a competitor.

Users hate change. However, “this anger never actually matters.” It’s fundamentally too difficult to coordinate a mass migration to an alternative site. This can be figured in relation to a 90-9-1 rule that applies to social media users.

Generally, the majority of social media users (90%) can be classified as “lurkers.” These passive site users still bring traffic, so whether they command a large following or not, social media sites are content; the company doesn’t care unless it loses them.

Protest depends on finding communities and making an impact. That’s difficult when your community is disengaged.

Unless a boycott can break through to those more disengaged and passive users somehow, it’s doomed to fail. And it’s nearly impossible to reach them precisely because they’re disengaged.

The API changes at Reddit don’t particularly impact the disengaged 90%. Because the site is so dependent on its engaged users, it’s those users that make change felt. Of the most active Reddit users, a vast majority use third-party Reddit apps in some way or another.

90% of users don't care about the Reddit API protest.

90% of Reddit users don’t care about the API protest.

So, the mods that dislike the changes are blacking out the site. Traffic will drop and frustrated passive users will have to look elsewhere for answers to their most niche enquiries. When the strike ends in 24 hours, the ball will be in Reddit’s court.

Some users don’t see how the blackout will impact the site owners.