In one of the largest user-driven protests to hit the social media platform, thousands of Reddit forums have gone dark on Monday. These voluntary blackouts restrict the visibility of content in Reddit’s largest online communities, including popular groups dedicated to music, history, sports, and video games. The protests involve over two dozen subreddits with at least 10 million subscribers, as well as thousands of smaller networks.
The protests stem from widespread outrage over Reddit’s plan to impose significant fees on some third-party apps to maintain access to the platform. Already, several top app-makers have announced their closure due to their inability to afford the upcoming costs, which are set to commence as early as next month.
This confrontation between Reddit’s corporate management and its users and developers signifies a turning point for the platform, particularly as it seeks to go public later this year. Previously, Reddit users could browse, comment, and share content on the platform through third-party apps. However, Reddit is now requesting substantial payments from app makers to maintain the same level of access through its application programming interface (API), a move aimed at better monetizing Reddit users.
Christian Selig, the developer of the popular Apollo app, revealed that Reddit demanded $20 million per year to sustain his app. Faced with such exorbitant costs, Selig had no choice but to announce the closure of the app. Tensions between Reddit and its developer community intensified when Reddit appeared to misrepresent the details of its private conversation with Selig, falsely suggesting he had blackmailed the company. Selig, however, recorded the phone call, prompting Reddit’s co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman to acknowledge the recording in a subsequent Q&A with users.
Critics argue that Reddit’s steep fees will eliminate all third-party competition against its proprietary app, which many users perceive as slow, buggy, and inferior. They also express concerns about the impact on the volunteer community responsible for moderating Reddit forums, as these volunteers heavily rely on third-party tools. In contrast to other large social networks, Reddit delegates the crucial task of moderation to its users rather than its own paid employees or contractors.
While Reddit’s defenders assert the platform’s right to set prices for API access, stating that it is a business entitled to control data access, others point out that many users were unaware of the option to access Reddit through third-party apps.
The current battle echoes Twitter’s recent introduction of a paywall for data under its new owner, Elon Musk. This move sparked backlash from third-party app makers, misinformation researchers, and public service account holders concerned about transparency and accessibility. Twitter’s subsequent addition of a new paid plan tier was criticized as inadequate.
Reddit now faces a similar revolt, potentially more impactful given its greater reliance on community members for the site’s maintenance. The conflict extends beyond Reddit itself, reflecting a broader debate on value creation within social networks and the collection and exploitation of personal information by technology platforms.
For Reddit and its future shareholders, the platform’s value lies in the infrastructure it provides for conversation and the generation of revenue from proprietary data access. However, developers and moderators argue that Reddit’s value stems from user-led moderation and the tools and features created by others that have contributed to the site’s growth and accessibility.
Many users feel betrayed and are considering abandoning Reddit or deleting their accounts to prevent the monetization of their historical activity.
As the protests continue, the outcome of this battle will have significant implications for the future direction of Reddit and the broader conversation surrounding the role of user-generated content in social media platforms.
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