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Why Are Subreddits Going Private? The Reddit Blackout of 2023

Written By:

Shane Wen

Published on:

June 13, 2023

If you’re active in the virtual world, you’ve probably noticed a significant disturbance in Reddit recently. You’re not alone.

Millions of users are experiencing what’s now known as the “Reddit Blackout.” It’s not an internet hiccup; it’s a widespread protest involving countless subreddits going private, and it all circles back to Reddit’s recent policy change concerning its API (Application Programming Interface).

Understanding The Shift

Until recently, Reddit’s API has been freely accessible, enabling developers to create third-party applications that provide auxiliary services, such as moderation assistance or accessibility enhancements.

On April 18th, 2023, Reddit announced a policy shift: they will now charge for access to their API. The developer community didn’t take this news lightly, many of whom operate on shoestring budgets. The decision sparked an uproar, setting the stage for what we’re now calling the “Reddit Blackout.”

An Unprecedented Reaction

From June 12, 2023, a huge amount of subreddits have announced they will “go dark” for 48 hours in a united protest against a recent shift in Reddit’s approach to third-party developers.

Watching many subreddits go dark for tomorrow’s blackout, it’s been amazing seeing the whole Reddit community unite over a common frustration. As a third-party developer, the support has been incredibly heartening. I hope Reddit listens and recognizes that this process was handled poorly, concrete promises to give developers more time could restore community confidence. Minor steps can make a massive difference.” – Christian Selig, Creator of Apollo wrote on Reddit

Third-party developers such as Apollo assert that the policy change will render them nonviable due to the steep costs associated with API usage.

The price they gave was $0.24 for 1,000 API calls. I quickly inputted this in my app, and saw that it was not far off Twitter’s outstandingly high API prices, at $12,000, and with my current usage would cost almost $2 million dollars per month, or over $20 million per year. – Christian Selig, Creator of Apollo wrote on Reddit

Subreddit moderators have echoed this sentiment, expressing skepticism about the impacts of this change on their ability to maintain their communities effectively.

The ripple effects of this shift have been significant. Thousands of subreddits have gone dark, turning private to protest the new policy. The duration of this blackout varies, with some intending to remain private for 48 hours, while others have committed to maintaining their blackout until an acceptable resolution to the policy change is found.

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman Defends API Changes

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman defended the move, citing the need to make Reddit a “self-sustaining business.” Drawing parallels with Twitter, which also recently started charging for API usage, Huffman’s explanation has done little to quell the anger of the Reddit community.

Wider Implications

The impact of this policy change is broad. Reddit’s subreddits, vibrant hubs of discussion across an array of topics, lie at the heart of the user experience. Their blackout disrupts the everyday functionality and community spirit millions of Reddit users treasure.

The duration of this disruption remains uncertain, contingent on ongoing negotiations and Reddit’s responsiveness to the situation. With some subreddits committed to indefinite blackouts, Reddit users and developers must brace themselves for a potentially lengthy disturbance.

As we continue to observe this evolving situation, it serves as a lesson for other digital platforms. Striking a balance between business sustainability and user experience is difficult yet important, made even more complex in our ever-evolving digital landscape. How Reddit navigates these challenges will surely be of interest to users, developers, and observers alike. /

Updated 12-14-2023, 11:57 pm EST

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