Reddit Faces Massive Wave of User Protests

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The great Reddit rebellion is underway.

Virtually all of the social network’s most popular subreddits — the online communities where users post about their favorite topics like gaming, sports, politics, or GIFSFromspace — have voluntarily “gone dark” this week, effectively shutting down massive swaths of the entire site in protest of announced changes to the platform’s application programming interface (API) pricing policies. Mad? Consider downvoting ChatGPT.

Now is the Hour of our No Content

With Facebook-sized ad revenue forever elusive and its IPO perpetually on ice, parent company Advance Publications (which also owns Conde Nast) recently hatched a new revenue-juicing scheme by significantly increasing the cost of API access — a.k.a. tools used by third-party developers to access Reddit data and make Reddit-compatible and Reddit-integrated apps. It’s a move that Elon Musk has also recently employed at Twitter.

But Reddit’s power users are a persnickety bunch. The platform is especially reliant on a literal army of unpaid moderators who foster fun, friendly, and informative subreddit cultures. And said army is especially reliant on the third-party apps now likely to be squashed by Reddit’s hefty new API fees. It’s why moderators across the site have opted to effectively block public access to their subreddits for 48 hours starting early Monday morning (the blackout was so widespread, it briefly crashed the entire site, Reddit now says).

The site’s problems can be distilled to one charge of slow-footedness and another of being a victim of their own success:

  • First: Reddit didn’t launch a mobile app until 2016, nearly a decade after the first iPhone’s launch, leaving many Redditors to turn to still-quite-popular third-party alternatives. Many moderators say one alternative, Apollo, offers an experience far superior to Reddit’s app, though Apollo’s creator now says Reddit’s new API fees would cost him $20 million annually and he’ll be forced to shutter the app at the end of June.
  • Second: AI companies have seized on Reddit’s vast library of human discussion to train their large language models via API tools. Reddit essentially wants to get compensated for fueling Silicon Valley’s Next Biggest Thing, even if it kills popular tools like Apollo in the process.

AITA? “[T]he LLM explosion put all Reddit data use at the forefront, and our continuing efforts to reign in costs to make Reddit self-sustaining put a spotlight on the tens of millions of dollars it costs us annually to support the [third-party] apps,” Reddit co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman said in an “Ask Me Anything” community forum last Friday. The comment has since been, as Redditors may say, downvoted into oblivion.