Why Reddit users are protesting against the site’s leadership
ON JUNE 12TH large parts of Reddit, a social-media platform with nearly 56m active daily users, went dark. The site is made up of forums, known as subreddits. Moderatorsusers who run these forums on a voluntary basisremoved 8,000 of the most popular from public view for two days. They were protesting against Reddits plan to charge some third-party-app developers for access to the sites data. By June 14th most moderators had made their subreddits public again; on June 26th, about a third remained private. Users are finding other novel ways to disrupt the platform: moderators designated harmless subreddits such as r/MildlyInteresting, where people share photos, as Not Safe For Work, indicating that posts may be pornographic, violent, or otherwise unsuitable to browse in the office. A subreddit about modern fashion is asking that users only post about 18th-century clothing. Why are Reddits users demonstrating in this idiosyncratic way? Reddit is the worlds 8th most popular website. It was founded in 2005, and in its early years did little to police speech on the platform. As it has commercialised, Reddit has introduced new rules to limit acceptable posts, sometimes at the request of users. It has basic site-wide standards (eg, no racism), but moderators make most of the decisions about what is and is not acceptable on a forum. These volunteers have been a boon. They have allowed Reddits bosses to outsource tricky decisions about the limits of free speech to users. And they have saved the site money: a paper by researchers at Northwestern University, in Illinois, and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities found that if Reddit were to pay its moderators $20 an hour, the average wage for such work in America, it would cost $3.4m a year. But Reddits user-controlled model is under strain. Moderators powerful role, and the sites libertarian ethos, have made them territorial, and made Reddit particularly vulnerable to revolts whipped up by the leaders of individual forums. This year Twitter met little resistance when it started charging third-party app developers. Reddit says it is introducing charges to stop large language models, which underpin artificial-intelligence services such as ChatGPT, from scraping its data free of charge. Such models are creating a huge amount of money for companies like OpenAI, of which Reddit gets little. But users fear that the change will harm popular third-party apps. Many consider Reddits own app to be clunky. They prefer browsing the site on other apps with sleeker designs, such as Apollo and RIF. Christian Selig, who runs Apollo, said he would close it down on June 30th because he cannot afford to pay $20m a year to Reddit to keep operating. Moderators are particularly dependent on third-party apps, which make running subreddits easier. And users worry that a carve-out for accessibility apps, which help visually impaired users access Reddit, will not be inclusive enough. Still, Reddit is likely to go ahead with changes. It is eager to increase its revenue ahead of an initial public offering (IPO) this year. According to PitchBook, a data firm, the site was worth $10bn when it last raised funds in 2021. It is unlikely to reach that valuation now: the IPO market has cooled and Reddit is not profitable. The user revolt may also have spooked investors. Steve Huffman, Reddits boss, believes that the protests are the work of a disgruntled minority and will pass. That may be true. But its users are what give Reddit valuethe sites bosses should be careful not to gamble away their goodwill.