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Thousands of subreddits have gone dark today. Those include communities on Reddit ranging from r/funny (with 40+ million subscribers) to r/EatCheapandHealthy, one of our favorites here at Lifehacker. At least 7,000 subreddits have joined the protest so far, which begins today and may continue in some form after June 14 if Reddit admins refuse to reverse a recent company decision.
Update, June 12, 2023 at 10:15 a.m.: We wrote about this blackout when it was upcoming, and now the subs have gone dark as promised. We have updated the post you are reading with the most current information. For more on what to expect as a user, this post from r/help describes what you will see. Note that your profile and notifications will be missing anything from participating subs during the blackout. Reddit will allow you to message the moderators of each sub on the screen where you see that it is closed, but don’t expect them to reply or to grant you access.
The site also appears to be having technical issues; as I was updating this piece I was getting intermittent “posts aren’t loading” errors. It’s unclear whether these issues have any connection with the blackout.
What are they protesting?
Reddit recently announced that they will begin charging third-party apps to access their API. The API is what allows apps like Apollo and Rif to exist: When you use the app, it makes “calls” to Reddit for the data it needs to display on the screen. We’ve highlighted several of these apps before; they make Reddit more useful and more pleasant to participate in.
Charging for API access isn’t necessarily a crazy idea, but the pricing scheme Reddit announced is out of reach for many developers. The developer of one popular app, Apollo, has said that his cost would be $20 million per year. “I hope it goes without saying that I don’t have that kind of money or would even know how to charge it to a credit card.” (That developer announced today that the app will close on June 30, and explained the financial and technological situation in great detail here.)
Several of the popular third-party apps predate Reddit’s own mobile app, which launched in 2016. Reddit’s app is popularly seen to be buggy and annoying, hence the continued popularity of these mobile apps. Developers have noted that not only does Reddit plan to charge relatively high fees to third-party apps, its new terms also reportedly forbid in-app advertising that could help to offset costs.
The company announced the new pricing with only a few months’ notice, not necessarily enough time for developers to change their entire business model. It also has not backed down despite pushback from developers and other Reddit users. Reddit also appears to be struggling financially, with plans to lay off 5% of its workforce. Redditors have speculated that the company’s recent decisions may have to do with a planned IPO later this year.
The API changes could affect the site even if you never use third-party apps
If you don’t use third-party apps to read Reddit, this might not seem like such a big deal. But those apps aren’t the only tools that use the Reddit API.
“This move by Reddit will make moderating r/Blind impossible,” one mod points out, because many of its moderators are visually impaired and use screen-reading tools that depend on the API. And they aren’t the only moderators who rely on third-party tools to do their job.
Reddit’s moderators are not paid by the company, but are users who run the subreddits, deleting spam and enforcing rules specific to each community. It’s because of these moderators that subreddits are as useful as they are. Moderators remove off-topic posts, boot out disruptive or disrespectful users, and make sure that nudes posted in porn subs are done so consensually, to name just a few of their jobs.
Moderators use a wide variety of third-party tools to do their (unpaid) jobs. There are browser extensions to keep track of users, bots to flag spam or send reminders, and more. If moderation tools go away, Reddit will become far less readable. Moderators won’t be able to do their job as well, and many will likely resign in frustration.
Reddit’s CEO, Steve Huffman (who goes by u/spez) says that “about 3% of mod actions come from third-party apps, and we’ve reached out to communities who moderate almost exclusively using these apps to ensure we address their needs.” He has also said that many of the existing third-party moderator tools will not be affected by the proposed API changes, but moderators are understandably still concerned about their future ability to use the tools of their choice.
Since the company makes money off content and moderation it gets for free, there has been speculation that the API changes, if implemented as planned, could usher in the death of Reddit.
Which sites are going dark, and how can I learn more?
Now that the blackout has begun, the easiest way to see whether your favorite is participating is simply to try to access it. If you get a message that a previously public sub “is a private community,” that means you’re locked out. Here is the “incomplete and growing” list of subreddits that have stated their intention to participate, with the most popular subs listed first. In total, there appear to be more than 15,000 sites already on board.
Subs that join the protest will be unavailable for 48 hours, beginning on Monday, June 12. These protests are typically done by the sub going private, which means that only users on a certain list will be allowed access. For most subs, this list is kept nearly empty, so it effectively shuts down the sub for the general public and for its regular users.
Some subs are planning to black out just for those 48 hours; others may stay dark longer to keep pressure on Reddit, either in full private mode or in a restricted mode that allows users to read but not post. The last time subreddits joined together for a protest like this was over Reddit’s hiring of a controversial employee. The employee was then let go.
The “explain like I’m five” sub has committed to serving as a place where people can learn about the blackout, even while it is ongoing. Here is their explainer about what is happening and why. During the blackout, new posts will not be allowed but this explainer (and potentially new information) will still be available. The user account u/why_subs_went_dark and the subreddit r/ModCoord were created by organizers of the protest and are also ones to watch. For more on Reddit’s side of the story, CEO Huffman answered questions in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) here.
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