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Reddit Blackouts: Why it’s happening and what you need to know

Over 32 million users are locked out of their Reddit communities following protests from recent API changes – let’s talk about it.

An darkened app icon for Reddit on a red screen surrounded by a other mobile app icons.

Around 3500 subreddits are participating in a blackout today in protest of Reddit’s decision to impose severe fees on third-party Reddit browsing apps. The blackout will last for the next 48 hours, with participating subreddits remaining private until then; some communities may stay silent even longer pending action from Reddit.

Among those protesting are subreddits such as r/gaming, r/aww, r/Music, r/todayilearned and r/pics, which, according to BBC, comprise half of the 10 most popular subreddits on the platform, each containing over 30 million users who will be unable to access the pertinent content during the blackout.

At the core of the conflict is Reddit’s sudden push to charge third-party app developers for access to the Reddit API, which is what these browsers use to find and display Reddit content in their respective apps. According to one app’s developer, Christian Selig, the price to continue running Apollo–a popular third-party content browser–would total around $20 million.

These charges would go into effect at the end of June, leaving app developers with less than a month to prepare for what many consider to be outrageously pricey fees.

The solidarity with third-party Reddit browsers, including Apollo, Reddit is Fun, Sync and ReddPlanet, may seem unexpected; however, these platforms have been users’ content-viewing methods of choice for years due to Reddit’s official app launching far after the desktop site gained immense popularity.

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BBC reports that all four of the aforementioned browsers will, of their own admission, be forced to shut down if Reddit requires them to pay for the API on such short notice. Selig in particular has, according to Ars Technica, “come to terms with [shutting down Apollo] over the last weeks,” citing “deteriorating” conversations with Reddit ending in an “ugly point”. 

Ars Technica also makes a salient point about Reddit’s thuggish pricing: Where sites such as Imgur charge a mere $166 per 50 million API requests, Reddit is looking for $12,000. 

“It’s not clear that Reddit wants third-party apps to survive this pricing change, as we don’t know of a single app that says it can continue under Reddit’s terms,” they write.

For their part, Reddit has attempted to justify the costs by citing their spending of “multi-millions of dollars on hosting fees” and claiming that the price was determined based on third-party apps’ “usage levels that we measure to be comparable to our own costs.”

Allegedly, Reddit will leave accessibility apps–third-party services that make Reddit easier to use for a variety of reasons–exempt from the charges for now, but apps like Apollo are out of luck if they can’t come up with the necessary cash by June 30th.

Many community moderators have posited that, despite an initial goal of 48 hours for the blackout, some communities may continue indefinitely–with others leaving their subreddits in restricted mode–until Reddit agrees to revise their terms. Perhaps the most notable example of this concept is r/Music, a subreddit which has vowed to honor the blackout until Reddit acquiesces, leaving the community of 32 million members without content in the meantime.

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While moderators themselves may have differing notions about the acceptable amount of time to participate, one moderator made it clear that the participation itself is necessary.

“The current plan for many communities is… they might keep the blackout going for longer, beyond the original forty-eight hours… every community operates differently, and different moderators have different views on what’s happening right now, so it does vary,” said the moderator. “But given recent communications between moderators and Reddit admins, I don’t believe that they are intending to reverse these changes.”

In this developing story, Reddit has a strong lead as the big bad wolf, stomping on small companies in an effort to exert their will. In doing so, they may do irreparable damage to their very own lifeblood–the communities that make Reddit a place that is worth visiting in the first place.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.


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