On Monday, a significant user-driven protest hit the social media platform as thousands of Reddit forums went dark, marking one of the largest demonstrations in the platform’s history.
These voluntary blackouts, which restrict the visibility of groups’ content to the public, have affected Reddit’s major online communities encompassing music, history, sports, video games, and more. The protests have emerged in over two dozen subreddits with at least 10 million subscribers, in addition to numerous smaller networks.
The protests on Monday reflect widespread outrage caused by Reddit‘s plan to impose substantial fees on certain third-party apps to maintain access to the platform. As a result, several top app developers on Reddit have already announced the shutdown of their apps due to the inability to afford the new costs, set to take effect as early as next month.
This confrontation between Reddit’s corporate management and its users and developers represents a turning point for the platform, as it reportedly prepares for its upcoming public launch later this year. Until now, Reddit users have been able to browse posts, comment, and share media on Reddit using third-party apps.
However, Reddit is now seeking significant payments from app developers to sustain the same level of access through its application programming interface (API), seemingly with the goal of better monetizing Reddit’s user base. Christian Selig, the developer of the popular Apollo app, revealed last week that Reddit demanded $20 million per year from him to keep his app running. He later announced that he had no choice but to shut down the app.
Reddit’s actions further escalated tensions with its developer community when it appeared to misrepresent details of its private conversation with Selig, implying that he had attempted to blackmail the company. Selig, however, had recorded the phone call, which Reddit co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman later acknowledged during a Q&A session with users.
Selig’s app is just one casualty among the forthcoming changes. Critics of Reddit argue that the platform’s exorbitant fees will eliminate all third-party competition against Reddit’s own app, which many users have criticized for being slow, buggy, and inferior. Moreover, concerns arise that these actions will severely impact the volunteer community responsible for moderating Reddit forums, as Reddit delegates this responsibility to users rather than its own paid employees or contractors, unlike other large social networks.
Defenders of Reddit, including some users, assert that the platform has the right to set its own prices for API access and that it is a business entitled to control how users access the platform’s data. Some users even claim that they were unaware of the possibility of accessing Reddit through third-party apps.
In a Q&A session with users on Friday, Huffman wrote, “Reddit needs to be a self-sustaining business, and to do that, we can no longer subsidize commercial entities that require large-scale data use.”
This battle echoes a recent move by Twitter, under its new owner Elon Musk, which introduced its own data paywall to generate new revenue streams and address financial challenges. Twitter’s decision triggered backlash from third-party app developers, misinformation researchers, and public service account holders who argued that it would harm transparency and accessibility. Twitter responded to the criticism by introducing a new tier to its paid plan, but it was criticized as insufficient and too late.
Now, Reddit faces a similar revolt, one that may have a more profound impact given its reliance on community members for the platform’s basic maintenance.
The significance of this conflict extends beyond Reddit itself. It takes place against the backdrop of a broader debate concerning who creates value in social networks and who reaps the rewards. It also reflects the growing public skepticism towards dominant technology platforms that have gained economic dominance through the collection and exploitation of vast amounts of personal information.
For Reddit and its future shareholders, the company’s value derives from the infrastructure it provides for conversations. Operating and
safeguarding that infrastructure, as well as charging for access to proprietary data, generates the value that Reddit believes it should retain.
However, for Reddit’s developers and moderators, the platform’s value is not solely derived from the company’s operation but also from the user-led moderation of countless forums and the various tools and features created by others to enhance Reddit’s usability. These solutions may not have been developed by Reddit itself, but the company benefited from them as they contributed to the site’s growth and wider reach.
In many ways, Reddit resembles Wikipedia, the crowd-sourced digital encyclopedia, where volunteer editors are considered a vital resource. Similar to Wikipedia, Reddit’s rise was fueled by the unpaid efforts of its users, who invested time and resources in developing features that the company itself did not prioritize. Consequently, many users now feel betrayed by the platform’s shift in approach.
Some users argue that if Reddit intends to charge for API calls, the company should compensate moderators for the time they spend ensuring the website functions smoothly. They propose that the site, which heavily relies on the free labor of moderators, should be accountable for the essential work they provide.
As a response to the situation, some users have vowed to abandon Reddit, while others contemplate deleting their accounts to prevent the company from monetizing their historical activity.
“For a large number of Apollo users, its existence is the only reason we’re still using the platform,” wrote one user. “I’ve been here for 15+ years, but I have no intention of remaining once Apollo goes dark.”
The ongoing revolt against Reddit reflects a larger debate about the distribution of power and value within social networks. It highlights the growing tension between platforms’ attempts to monetize their services and the user-driven efforts that have contributed to their success.
Reddit’s actions and the subsequent backlash also serve as a reminder of public concerns surrounding the dominant position of technology platforms, their economic practices, and their use of personal data. As these debates continue, the outcome of the Reddit protest will shape the future landscape of social media platforms and their relationship with users and developers alike.