Imagine logging onto Instagram, and the website simply crashes. You check YouTube. The best channels are not showing up, and their videos are inaccessible. Twitter is suddenly limiting you to viewing just 600 posts a day. Half of your Facebook friends are gone. When you swipe on TikTok, there’s a chance that the next video will be a blank white screen.
Something similar has happened to Reddit. Right now, Reddit is at war with itself.
On May 31, 2023, the Reddit admins fired the first shot when they announced that they would be raising the cost for third-party apps to access Reddit’s API. An API, or Application Programming Interface, is the connection between a computer or service with a website’s servers. Essentially, there are third-party apps allowing users to browse Reddit by offering a different user interface, faster loading speeds, or improved accessibility. Services like Apollo and Reddit for Blind will not be able to afford to access the API, so they reported that they would have to shut down.
A counterattack was immediately launched. On the other side of this keyboard chessboard were the Reddit moderators, who engaged enemy forces with an announcement of their own. Many of them used third-party apps instead of the official Reddit app, and they weren’t happy. Power moderators, mods who control the most high-traffic subreddits like r/funny and r/videos, formed an alliance. In protest, each of them would be setting their subreddits to private for 48 hours, rendering them inaccessible. This proved to be highly effective, as it crashed the website for all users. They were gaining ground and marching forward.
Unfortunately, these brave warriors discovered a flaw in their strategy. By announcing that their protest would only last 48 hours, the mods gave the Reddit admins no incentive to back down from their position. An internal memo circulated where Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit and unofficial general of the Reddit admin army, told his staff that they would not be backing down. According to the Verge, Huffman wrote that this protest was “among the noisiest we’ve seen.” He went on to explain that “A number of Snoos have been working around the clock… responding to the myriad of issues related to this blackout. We have not seen any significant revenue impact so far.”
A “Snoo” is the name of Reddit’s white alien logo, used to identify members of their team.
Huffman continued, “Please know that our teams are on it, and like all blowups on Reddit, this one will pass as well.”
When word reached the moderators’ high command, they were outraged. Some announced that they would be continuing the blackout indefinitely. However, many subreddits gradually came back online until a solid battle plan was established. With the enemy offense pushed back, it was now time for Reddit admins to strike back.
In an interview with NBC News, Huffman vowed to bring democracy to what he calls a “landed gentry” by changing the moderator rules to allow for individual subreddits to vote mods out of their positions. Huffman said that mods who were breaking the rules (I.E. mods who participate in the blackout protest) would be removed. He also praised Elon Musk as his inspiration for the ways Musk is cutting costs at Twitter.
While it is entirely within Reddit’s right to remove moderators from their positions of power, Reddit mods are unpaid volunteers who do tremendous amounts of work. In most cases, they keep the subreddits advertiser friendly despite the abundance of NSFW (not suitable for work) content on the platform. Getting rid of them, protest or not, would mean that the admins are getting rid of an immense source of free labor. Researchers found that if moderators were paid, it would cost Reddit $3.4 million annually.
Reddit is the eighth most visited website in the world with a monthly average of 4.8 billion users. On Reddit, communities called “subreddits” are formed that focus on specific topics. For example, if you’re into gardening, writing, or intellectual discussion, you could check out r/gardening, r/writing, and r/gaming.
If you can’t find a subreddit for a specific interest, anybody can create one. Growing a subreddit takes moderation, and that’s why every subreddit has a team of moderators to keep track of the hottest posts and ensure that their subreddit isn’t bombarded with rule-breaking posts or comments.
At the moment, the two armies are at a standstill. There have been some small rebel attacks from the mods, such as when they marked r/pics, one of the largest subreddits with over 30 million members, as NSFW so the website couldn’t show ads alongside their posts. Also, the subreddit is currently flooded with pictures of John Oliver.
The moderators in charge of organizing celebrity AMAs (Ask Me Anything) also announced that they would not be arranging any new ones, stating that Reddit leadership “has all the funds they need to hire people to perform those extra tasks we formerly undertook as volunteer moderators.”
However, these guerilla tactics cannot last forever. The admins have given no response to these protests, and they have given no sign that they’re willing to back down. In any case, we can only pray they weigh their options carefully: how they respond will change the way that we browse memes on Reddit forever.