It’s not just Twitter that’s dealing with user backlash as a result of data access restrictions.
Reddit’s also looking to limit how its data can be used, by upping the price of its API entry points, which has sparked ongoing protests within Reddit’s user community, with many subreddit moderators maintaining strike action to oppose Reddit's changes.
Back in April, Reddit announced that it would be increasing the price of its API access, ostensibly to ensure that it would be ‘fairly paid’ for such moving forward. But more directly, Reddit, like Twitter, is aiming to combat the rising amount of generative AI projects that are using Reddit data to fuel their large language models (LLMs).
Such systems require large caches of conversational data, and with Meta and LinkedIn having already locked down their info to a large degree, it’s Reddit and Twitter that have become the key focal points for such, which is why they’re both now trying to stop data scraping, and restrict access, that could see other businesses essentially profiting off of their platforms.
The collateral damage, however, is that many popular third-party Reddit apps, like Reddit reader ‘Apollo’, have been forced to shut down as a result, angering many users, while it’s also raised questions as to the value of the work that moderators do for the site.
If Reddit’s making millions off of API access, then why shouldn’t subreddit mods, who maintain and manage large portions of the site, also get paid?
That set the wheels in motion for the protest action, which mods initially began by switching their communities to ‘Private’, which Reddit has sought to subvert by appealing to other prominent users in each to become moderators, as an alternative to the current managers. In response to that, some mods then switched their communities to NSFW, which meant that Reddit could no longer sell ads against their content.
That’s triggered Reddit management to take more drastic action to combat the protest action, by once again threatening to remove mods who keep their communities locked, or otherwise obscured from general access, without clear reason.
But still, the protest continues. Almost a month on from the initial blackout action, over the weekend, moderators of the well-known subreddit r/AMA – or ‘Ask Me Anything’ – announced that they would no longer be running celebrity interviews in the app.
As per r/AMA (paraphrased from original post):
“Reddit executives have shown that they won't yield to the pressure of a protest. They've told the media that they are actively planning to remove moderators who keep subreddits shut down and have no intentions of making changes. So, moving forward, we're going to run IAmA like your average subreddit. We will continue moderating, removing spam, and enforcing rules. However, effective immediately, we plan to […] discontinue active solicitation of celebrities or high profile figures to do AMAs, running and maintaining a website for scheduling of AMAs, and maintaining a current up-to-date sidebar calendar of scheduled AMAs.”
The moderators of r/AMA also note that Reddit leadership ‘has all the funds they need to hire people to perform those extra tasks we formerly undertook as volunteer moderators’, and as such, they have little interest in returning, essentially, to work for the site if it continues down its current path.
That could be a big blow for Reddit’s long-term viability. Reddit’s AMA’s are arguably its most well-known original content element, with many high-profile celebrities, and even world leaders, taking part in these in-app Q and A sessions with users.
That draws in more immediate users who tune in live, and helps get Reddit more exposure through subsequent press coverage of the responses, while the content also lives on in Google search, feeding more traffic back into the site. Losing this would be a major problem for the app, which could force Reddit to enter into more active and open negotiations with its current moderation crews.
Which, as r/AMA notes, Reddit has thus far been unwilling to do.
As Reddit CEO Steve Huffman told The Verge in a particularly testy interview recently:
“We’ve had blackouts in previous times where there’s a little more room for movement. But the core of this one is the API pricing change. That’s our business decision. And we’re not undoing that business decision.”
Huffman has essentially planted his flag on this hill, and seems unwilling to even consider any discussion around the change - yet, as the protest drags on, which must be impacting Reddit usage, you would assume that he’ll have to reconsider this stance, or look to work with the user and moderator community to some degree.
The effective loss of r/AMA is another big hit on this front, and it’ll be interesting to see how many hits Reddit can take before it has to re-address the ongoing action.
It seems that this will inevitably harm Reddit’s valuation, which is a critical concern given that it’s also looking to launch an IPO at some stage.
Can Reddit regain the trust of its moderator community, and get back to a level of normal – or does this highlight the pitfalls of relying on volunteer admins when trying to run a business?