Why subreddits have gone dark

If you’re browsing Reddit today, you may have already noticed that it feels a lot emptier than usual. There may even be some subreddits you can’t visit or some links from other places that lead to now private subreddits. It’s even possible that the full site is currently not working correctly for you. It’s unclear what’s causing this latter problem, but the former issue has manifested because there’s currently a big protest underway against Reddit’s corporate leadership. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

Thousands of subreddits are currently set private, Reddit down as a whole

At the time of writing, more than 6,000 subreddits are offline, taking private in protest to recent Reddit management decisions. It looks like the strike was big enough of a change to Reddit’s server infrastructure that it brought the full site down, with Reddit as a whole partially inaccessible. When visiting the homepage, it’s currently not possible to view any posts. The exact cause of the problem is unclear. One other possibility is that there might be a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack ongoing. Downdetector is making clear that this is a widespread problem in any case.

Screenshot of Reddit homepage that isn't fully loaded, with banner saying

Regardless of what causes Reddit to go down, the strike is a coordinated effort among users and moderators who want to voice their concerns about how Reddit’s leadership is handling the transition to a paid API, the interface between third-party services and Reddit’s content. Many subreddits have pledged to go private for 48 hours on June 12 and June 13 in an effort to voice their dissatisfaction. Reddit’s leadership is supposed to see just how much they need to rely on their community for a constant influx of content and thus monetization.

Among the communities that have joined the protests are big tech subreddits like r/Android, r/Apple, r/gadgets, r/gaming, and many more. Some smaller communities like r/iphone have pledged to stay private until a satisfactory solution is found, with many others joining this stance or noting that they might extend the blackout if nothing changes within the 48-hour strike.

Some of the biggest subreddits out there have also joined the protest, like r/funny with over 40 million subscribers and other big Reddit names such as r/aww, r/Music, r/Pics, r/todayilearned, and r/science. You can see a full overview of which subreddits have joined the protests and how big they are on Reddark, with a livestream of the protest available on Twitch.

The path to paid API access

Earlier this year, Reddit announced that it wanted to start charging for its previously free API. The company’s reasoning was that AI and machine-learning companies like OpenAI could scrape all of the platform’s content for free, allowing them to make millions of dollars without Reddit earning a fair share. A change to APIs would also affect third-party consumer Reddit apps, which many people prefer over the official app due to extra features and a better experience.

The community was wary about this announcement from the beginning, but in talks with the developer of popular Reddit third-party app Apollo, Christian Selig, the company assured that it wouldn’t charge an exorbitant amount of money and didn’t want to turn into Twitter (which famously made its API prohibitively expensive, all but preventing researchers from using Twitter data for studies and third-party app developers from maintaining their services).

Fast-forward to June this year, and Reddit shared more details about its planned pricing with app developers, with Selig being the person to come forward and explain the situation to the community. According to him, it would cost him $20 million per year to keep his app running as is under the new pricing, with Reddit charging $12,000 per 50 million API requests. This translates to a price of about $2.50 per Apollo user per month.

While it may be possible to continue service by offering his app on a subscription-only basis going forward, Selig determined that other than the exorbitant costs, the time frame was simply too short to make the switch. The new API prices are going live on July 1, and he’d needed significantly more time to come up with exact pricing, push changes live in the App Store, and determine how to deal with currently active subscribers. On top of this, Reddit decided to cut all third-party services off from explicit or Not-Safe-For-Work (NSFW) content, so third-party developers would be forced to charge a lot more money for less content than you will find on the official website or app.

Many other third-party developers were forced to make similar decisions, including community favorites like Sync and RIF. The outrage in the Reddit community isn’t only about access to third-party apps on mobile devices. Moderators of big Reddit communities, most of them working as volunteers free of charge, rely heavily on third-party tools that make moderation easier, a task that will be significantly harder with Reddit’s official tools once the charges apply.

Accessibility is another problem. People with visual impairments heavily rely on third-party apps that offer a better experience for them. Reddit has since exempted third-party accessibility apps from the new API pricing, but at the time of writing it’s still not clear how these exemptions are selected.

Reddit’s communication is a bigger issue than API money

People could probably stomach the death of third-party apps, and this alone likely hasn’t sparked the huge backlash that we’re seeing on Reddit today. Reddit is a community-driven platform, and to the community it feels like the management doesn’t take their problems and concerns into account at all. Many people agree that a free API isn’t in Reddit’s best interest, but they take issue with the drastic prices that the company wants to charge and the way it communicates with third-party app developers and the community as a whole.

The community is also worried about Reddit’s trajectory, given that its CEO makes clear the company wants to profit more clearly from the data provided by its users all while moderators are essentially working for free.

Apollo developer Christian Selig also says that the Reddit leadership slanders him, backed with recorded evidence of phone calls with the Reddit team. Reddit CEO Steve Huffman claims that Selig tried to blackmail or threaten the company, though the records shared by Selig make it appear like a misunderstanding, with the Reddit representative profoundly apologizing. Since Selig lives in Canada where one-party consent is enough to allow phone call recordings, he should be well within his rights to record the conversations, too.

Reddit then hastily scheduled an Ask Me Anything for Friday, June 9, AMA for short, which is a format established by the platform and allows Redditos to ask someone any questions they would like to. In this case, Reddit CEO Huffman wanted to talk to the community about the controversial changes to API monetization. During the AMA, Huffman answered a question about Reddit’s conversation with Selig with, “His ‘joke’ is the least of our issues. His behavior and communications with us has been all over the place—saying one thing to us while saying something completely different externally; recording and leaking a private phone call—to the point where I don’t know how we could do business with him.”

Huffman also says that the changes are necessary to bring Reddit to the path of profitability, saying that “Unlike some of the 3P apps, we are not profitable.” Further, the company would continue on this path until it would see results.

The AMA and Reddit’s actions as a whole have been received as tone-deaf by the community, which still hopes for a resolution that would allow third-party clients to keep operating under a subscription model or via other means that are perceived to be more sensible.

Are there any alternatives to Reddit?

Reddit is an incredibly big community that allows people to create a subreddit for any interest they may have and that they may want to discuss. r/Android might be particularly well known among our readers, but really, there is a subreddit for almost anything. The fact that it already has so many users is a big advantage for the platform, and it’s hard to find a full-fledged alternative. That said, some competitors are using the current controversy to try and establish themselves as a good alternative — ironically, there is a r/RedditAlternatives subreddit that discusses just those.

Some of the more promising approaches are based on the so-called Fediverse, which is the same technology that Twitter alternative Mastodon (and Bluesky, to an extent) relies on. The Fediverse basically consists of a loose collection of servers and protocols that are interoperable with each other, which is why you can join or set up a server of your choice to talk to anyone on Mastodon. This same principle applies to Reddit alternatives Lemmy and kbin.social, which look a lot like Reddit of old with their site designs.

Screenshot of kbin's homepage during the Reddit blackout

Kbin looks a lot like Reddit at first glance

The reason why Fediverse platforms are so promising is the fact that they’re decentralized. There is no CEO or management at the top that can decide to take APIs private or enforce moderation rules. Instead, each Fediverse server has its own rules, but people can still communicate with people on other servers within the same protocol. It’s also possible to move to a different server if you don’t agree with the moderators of the one you’re currently on. If you don’t want even more apps on your phone, it’s even possible to follow servers across Mastodon, Lemmy, and kbin (though there are currently still issues with this that need to be worked out).

In the meantime, we can only hope that the protests at Reddit end with a satisfactory resolution for everyone involved. Even with the controversy, Reddit remains a great resource on the internet.

UPDATE: 2023/06/12 11:03 EST BY MANUEL VONAU

Updated to reflect that Reddit as a whole is down

Shortly after publishing this story, Reddit as a whole went down, according to Downdetector. We’ve updated the coverage accordingly.