Reddit blackout: why the protests are still going – and what happens next (2024)

Reddit blackout: why the protests are still going –and what happens next (1)

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  • Why is this happening?
  • Why now?
  • What happens next?
  • Why not use the official app?

Update (Monday, June 19): we've updated this article with the latest news on the Reddit blackout, including the comical reopening of some of its biggest subreddits.

The Reddit blackout may be well beyond its proposed 48-hour window, but aftershocks continue to hit the site. Most of the site is now back up and running, though three of the biggest subreddits (r/pics, r/gifs and r/aww) have all reopened in unconventional fashion –following a poll, they're only allowing posts about the comedian John Oliver. According to the Reddit blackout tracker, over 3,600 subreddits also remain 'dark'.

So why are these post-blackout protests still going? Some comments from Reddit CEO Steve Huffman haven't exactly helped, nor has an apparently threatening letter sent to the moderators of some blackout-hit subreddits. During an interview with NBC News, Huffman compared moderators to "landed gentry", while a letter from moderators on June 17 suggested that Reddit was now threatening to "invite, new active moderators to keep these spaces and accessible to users".

This has all followed leaked memos from Reddit management stating that "like all blowups on Reddit, this one will pass as well", plus Huffman doubling down on Reddit's position in an interview with The Verge. In it he categorically stated, referring to the new API charges, that "we’re not undoing that business decision".

Clearly, Reddit is confident that it's in the right and won't let the protests change its stance. But it also so far hasn't stepped in the completely diffuse the protests. A Reddit API Fact Sheet states that "we are not shutting down discussions or unilaterally reopening communities". However, with hundreds of subreddits still planning to stay 'dark' indefinitely, that policy could be pushed to the limit.

Reddit blackout: why the protests are still going –and what happens next (2)

The blackout was originally scheduled to last for 48 hours from Monday, June 11. Those protests were possible because Reddit relies on a vast army of volunteer moderators who keep discussions on topic and remove comments – but can also make subreddits private, effectively closing them to most people.

On Monday June 12, Reddit actually crashed due to the blackout, with the site's status page reporting a "major outage". But those issues have now all been resolved, with the Reddit status tracker showing a more healthy "all systems operational".

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So what happens next? And when will the whole of Reddit be fully open and back to its usual self, if ever? Here's all the latest news about the self-styled "front page of the internet".

Reddit blackout: why is this happening?

Back in April, Reddit announced that it would start charging developers for access to its API. This API has allowed developers to build popular, alternative smartphones apps like Apollo, which they did well before Reddit introduced its own official app in 2016.

Those charges are due to come into play from June 19, which is why many third-party apps –including Apollo and Reddit is Fun –have announced that they'll no longer be available.

That said, not all third-party apps will be wiped out –for example, the developer of Relay for Reddit has said in a new post that "a monthly subscription price of $3 (or less) might be achievable".

The leaked internal memo from Reddit CEO Steve Huffman also states: "While the two biggest third-party apps, Apollo and RIF, along with a couple others, have said they plan to shut down at the end of the month, we are still in conversation with some of the others. And as I mentioned in my post last week, we will exempt accessibility-focused apps and so far have agreements with RedReader and Dystopia."

Still, while Reddit hasn't officially revealed its new API pricing details, some developers have lifted the lid on the potential costs. In a post on r/apolloapp, the developer Christian Selig said that based on the "7 billion requests" (or times a user has triggered a need for API access) it would cost him $1.7 million (around £1.35m / AU$2.51m) per month.

Reddit blackout: why the protests are still going –and what happens next (3)

Although Selig stated that he is "deeply disappointed in this price", particularly as it has echoes of a similar policy by Twitter that he says was "publicly ridiculed", Reddit has denied that it has priced out developers of all third-party apps.

We asked Reddit for official comment and it told us that "expansive access to data has impact and costs involved" and that it spends "millions of dollars on hosting fees".In an interview with The Verge, Huffman added that "I’d like to see some of the third party apps figure out a sustainable business model. We’ll see if they do".

One of the most popular apps, Apollo, seems unable to do so based on the charges. But Reddit says that Apollo is "notably less efficient than other third-party apps" and that "the vast majority of API users will not have to pay for access". According to the site, "the Reddit Data API is free to use within the published rate limits so long as apps are not monetized".

Reddit blackout: why now?

While Reddit hasn't mentioned the likes of ChatGPT in its official statements about the API charges and blackout, there is certainly a potential link between the two.

Back in April, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman told The New York Times that the site wanted to start getting paid for helping to train some of the big AI chatbots.

The huge number of conversations on Reddit forums have been used by the likes of OpenAI, Microsoft and Google to train their LLMs (Large Language Models), but Huffman stated that "we don’t need to give all of that value to some of the largest companies in the world for free.”

Reddit blackout: why the protests are still going –and what happens next (4)

Back then, Huffman said that Reddit's API would still be free to developers who wanted to build third-party apps, but it seems that's now only the case "so long as the apps are not monetized" (as Reddit told us above).

Another likely reason for the shake-up is that Reddit is potentially planning to offer an initial public offering on Wall Street in the second half of 2023, which could explain why it's attempting to fine-tune revenue streams in the run-up to what it no doubt hopes will be a healthy valuation.

Reddit blackout: what happens next?

The blackout has been pretty damaging for Reddit, both in terms of reputation and revenue, but not enough for the site to reconsider its API plans. In the leaked memo, CEO Steve Huffman claimed "we have not seen any significant revenue impact so far and we will continue to monitor". But as noted by Engadget, Reddit did see a 6.6% drop in daily visits between the start of the blackout and June 13, plus a drop in engagement that hits its lowest level for three years.

The vast majority of subreddits are also now back up and running, which strengthen's Reddit's position. And now many of the biggest have reopened after claiming that Reddit threatened to open subreddits and replace moderator teams. This was the case for r/Apple, though some big communities like r/videos (26 million subscribers) remain dark.

Reddit blackout: why the protests are still going –and what happens next (5)

In a sheet shared with The Verge called 'Reddit API Fact Sheet', Reddit's management said "we are not shutting down discussions or unilaterally reopening communities", but according to many subreddit moderators, there has certainly been some less-than-gentle persuasion.

Whatever the end result, this is all in stark contrast to previous Reddit blackouts, like the one in 2015 that took place in protest against staffing decisions. Back then, Reddit CEO Ellan Pao posted an apology to users and moderators, and said "we acknowledge this long history of mistakes". The context now is very different, of course – and it looks likely that the end result will be, too.

Reddit blackout: why not just use the official app?

While it'd be incredibly sad to see the end of third-party apps like Apollo, the official Reddit app would obviously live on if there's no compromise –so why couldn't fans simply switch to that?

Aside from the obvious annoyance that it'd be a forced change, there are lots of reasons why fans prefer third-party apps. One of the big ones is that the likes of Apollo help preserve a traditional Reddit experience, rather than the more image-led one that Reddit's moving towards.

Reddit blackout: why the protests are still going –and what happens next (6)

Also, apps like Apollo are more customizable than the official Reddit app, often offer an ad-free experience, and harken back to the days of the Alien Blue app, which disappeared when the official Reddit app landed in 2016. Then again, those ad-free experiences could be another reason why Reddit wants a shake-up of third-party apps.

TechRadar's Managing Editor for Entertainment, Matthew Bolton, is an Apollo fan and explains: "I only use Apollo for Reddit because it cuts back the chaos. I like to browse particular subreddits that have good communities; I don’t want to be spammed with all the stuff that the algorithm has flagged as controversial in a desperate attempt to get me to engage," he says.

"I want to scroll through the things I like the most without the ads," he adds. "The Reddit app wants me to think of it like a social network, but I want to use it like a combination of Flipboard and an old-school forum – and that’s exactly what I do with Apollo. The official app is like trying to read a magazine while people keep slipping flyers about their pet views or irrelevant news between the pages.”

Not all third-party apps are throwing in the towel –the developer of Relay for Reddit has said in a new post that "a monthly subscription price of $3 (or less) might be achievable" to help absorb the new API costs, even if a free version is no longer possible. It's possible that Reddit could also tweak its official app to help attract those who are being forced to leave the likes of Apollo.

Either way, the way many of us read Reddit on our smartphones –and perhaps the whole site itself –is about to change in a big way.

Update (Tuesday, June 13): we've updated this article with official quotes given to us by Reddit and to amend an error about the current percentage of subreddits that have gone dark.

Reddit blackout: why the protests are still going –and what happens next (7)

Mark Wilson

Senior news editor

Mark is TechRadar's Senior news editor. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at both TechRadar and Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on Stuff.tv, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.

With contributions from

  • Matthew Bolton

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