16 Jun 2023

Our take on the Reddit blackout

If you’re a brand on Reddit, you might have seen that the platform is currently experiencing a 'blackout' initiated by its moderators in protest of how the site is being run. Beginning on Monday 12th, the initially ‘48-hour blackout’ has now been extended by 300 subreddits still choosing to remain dark.

Daisy Stephens

If you haven’t heard of this yet, to sum it up: Reddit has introduced charges for developers using its Application Programming Interface (API), which is the behind-the-scenes code that enables third-party apps to access and display Reddit content, and this decision has caused a wave of backlash within the Reddit community…

In addition to paid administrators, Reddit uses tens of thousands of unpaid moderators, aka ‘mods’, to help run the platform by spending an hour or so a day making sure nothing inappropriate for their subreddit is being posted. It’s this group of unpaid moderators who caused the blackout on Monday, where more than 7,000 subreddits have been shut down, including five of the 10 most popular communities on the site, which each have memberships of more than 30 million people.

There’s been a bit of a hive mentality on Reddit around this. On some of the still live subreddits, it seems that the majority of users actively posting are unhappy with the decision to charge for the API. Accessing the API used to be free for all, but charges will be introduced from 19th June. Users care so much because there are some key negative outcomes for their Reddit experience if the platform starts charging third-party developers.

One issue is how this will impact third-party apps like Apollo, which some Reddit users prefer to use to scroll through Reddit, as they don’t like the native user interface of Reddit itself. Apollo, along with three other major third-party apps, have said they will be shutting down as a result of Reddit’s new API pricing. This will impact how a portion of users likes to engage with Reddit. It’s worth keeping in mind that an estimated 52 million people access Reddit daily, whereas around 900K access it via Apollo, for example, which is one of the biggest third-party apps to be affected (so Apollo closing would affect under 2% of its users).

Reddit is unique in that it has a minority of volunteer technical users who develop applications for others to use on the platform, such as automated comment-bots, for example. These users have also expressed their annoyance at Reddit’s API pricing, as it could potentially hinder their contributions. However, given their smaller numbers and Reddit’s apparent focus on larger “enterprise” third parties with substantial user bases, we think that any major impact on this group is unlikely.

There’s an unofficial history of Reddit users having issues with the platform. They’re a very involved online community and have opinions on how things should be done, so a big change like this (which Reddit rarely does – especially compared to the constant changes of all other social platforms) is likely to cause a stir. Reddit users often hold strong opinions on how things should be done and have a history of voicing their issues with the platform. Consequently, a significant change like this, which is a rarity on Reddit compared to the constant changes seen on other social platforms, is bound to create waves.

In our opinion, while this development may tarnish Reddit’s reputation within its community, we would be surprised if it has a lasting and significant negative impact on day-to-day Reddit usage in the coming months as things settle down. Reddit boasts a dedicated, loyal, and unique user base, and we’re not confident that they would permanently boycott the platform.

Although we don’t currently recommend any specific actions for brands on Reddit, as this appears to be a temporary situation with many subreddits now live again, it’s still worth keeping an eye on this issue for any further developments.

For the latest, updates from Reddit’s CEO can be found on r/reddit. Users are actively participating and extensively sharing their thoughts, evident from the current 33K comments on the CEO’s main announcement, which is telling of just how engaged the Reddit user community on this issue.

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