Reddit’s massive ‘blackout’ protest, explained

Reddit users are protesting en masse against planned changes to the platform’s API. The social media site suffered a malfunction on Monday morning, as more than 7,600 subreddits — including some of the largest gaming-related subreddits — protested third-party API pricing changes just days after a disastrous AMA with Reddit CEO Steve Huffman. Other subreddits just stop accepting new posts or edits.

This blackout will run from June 12 to June 14, but some mods and communities plan to continue protesting until “the issue is adequately addressed.” according to the website Save 3rd Party Apps. That site also tracks the blackout status of Reddit’s 250 most followed subreddits.

Why are Redditors protesting?

on April 18 Reddit announced it would update access to its API, which notably included the introduction of a paid model for third-party apps. It would require “premium access for third parties who need additional capabilities and higher usage limits,” the announcement said.

Last week, developers of a number of third-party apps, including Apollo and Reddit is fun — said the new API pricing would make it prohibitively expensive for those apps to keep working on Reddit. Another popular Reddit reader app, BaconReader, would likely also be affected. A number of users have compared this change to Twitter’s recent move to charge for “premium” third-party API access.

Notably, Christian Selig, the creator of Apollo (a third-party app for using Reddit on iOS), said he would close the app on June 30 due to the new API pricing. He announced this decision in a long post in the subreddit, which now has more than 800,000 members. In the post, Selig explains how this change in third-party API access makes creating and maintaining the apps unsustainable.

On Reddit and Twitter, Selig said it would cost $20 million a year to keep the app running. Apollo made 7 billion API requests last month, according to reporting from The Verge.

User outrage only grew when CEO Steve Huffman, who posted under the username u/spez, took part in an AMA on Friday. He shared a post explanation of the rationale and reasoning behind the changes. At the end of the post, Huffman wrote, “I’m sticking around to answer questions with other admins. We know it’s hard to find answers, so we’re switching the default sorting to Q&A mode.”

Despite this, many of the most important comments on the thread remain unanswered. Other responses remained unclear. In one thread, Huffman wrote about Selig: “His behavior and communication with us has been all over the place – he said one thing to us while saying something completely different externally; record a private phone conversation and leak it – to the point where I don’t know how we can do business with him. Selig responded: “Feel free to give examples where I have said something in public other than to you. I give you full permission.”

Later, Huffman shared that non-commercial and accessibility-focused apps would continue to have free access to Reddit, to which another user replied, “Answer a real question, you fucking coward.”

Polygon has reached out to Reddit’s press contact email address for comment on the API pricing and protest, and will update this article when we receive a response.

How many subreddits are participating in the blackout?

At the time of writing, more than 7,600 subreddits are participating in the blackout. a Twitch stream called “reddark_247” tracks attendance in real time. Some of the biggest subreddits are participating, including r/funny, r/aww, r/music, and r/videos.

A large number of participating subreddits are gaming-related, with the turnout representing some of the largest video game forums on the web. Among these is r/gamingwhich has over 37 million members, as well as individual subreddits for popular publishers and games, such as r/zelda, r/PS5, r/Nintendo, r/NoMansSkyTheGame, r/Warhammer, r/Fallout, and r/WoW.

On Monday morning, Reddit had an outage due to the number of blackouts. According to redditstatus.comthe outage occurred around 8 a.m. PDT and lasted two and a half hours.

On Monday, Selig posted his thanks to the community for participating in the blackout in the r/apolloapp subreddit. Polygon has reached out to Selig for comment and will update the story if he responds.

What does it mean for a subreddit to be a private community?

A subreddit “blackout” means the mods have set the sub to private. When subreddits are private, the pages become inaccessible, even to members of the community. Only mods and approved community members can see those pages.

When you bring up a subreddit that is set to private, a popup will indicate that it is a private community. These popups also have a space for an explanation of some sort, and all the subreddits Polygon has visited have blurbs in these popups explaining that the action is a protest against API pricing changes. For example, the r/zelda subreddit’s private community note explains that mods chose to go dark after a community vote, and it directs fans to rally on Discord instead.

Image: Reddit via Polygon

Some subreddits that have not been set to private are protesting in other ways. On r/photoshopbattles — where users normally share funny photoshops based on a quick image — users only post black squares in protest. On r/AmITheAsshole, a popular etiquette debate and story sharing sub, mods have blocked the ability to post new posts and replies. Users are guided to a pinned post about the blackout insteadhoping to make the issue as visible as possible.

a pinned post on r/games says the subreddit “trying to move away from meta-incidents that cover the entire site.” It also cited Ubisoft and Capcom’s video game showcases as a reason to stay live. However, the subreddit “goes into a ‘restricted mode’ starting Monday” which, for example, will have “a patch to raise awareness about the ongoing shutdown,” the post said.