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07
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19
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23

WTF is going on with Reddit?

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Has Reddit moved from being a community builder to a community jailor?

OPINION

Nicholas Garcia, Social Media Manager, Blokhaus Inc.

Just when we thought Twitter would take the prize for the most bizarre API and platform change jumpscares in 2023, Reddit decided to throw its hat into the ring.

As a social media manager who has long relied on Reddit's vibrant platform to engage and connect with niche communities and audiences, I find myself perplexed by Reddit’s recent API changes and crowd-control efforts, which, cumulatively, have left users, subreddit moderators, and popular third-party application and tool developers alike navigating a much more corporate-feeling social media landscape.

In a now-viral Reddit post made on June 8, Christian Selig, the creator of the popular third-party Reddit application, Apollo, took to Reddit to share a post titled ‘Apollo will close down on June 30th.’ Avid Apollo users (including myself) were disheartened to learn that the reason Apollo would be shutting down was because of major changes to Reddit’s API. Christian revealed that Reddit would soon require developers to pay $12,000 for every 50 million requests. “Apollo made 7 billion requests last month, which would put it at about 1.7 million dollars per month, or 20 million US dollars per year,” Christian shared.

That’s a lot of money, and it was immediately clear that Apollo would not be the only app to be affected – so would countless other third-party applications and tools.

As a response to this post, and the news of the API changes quickly going viral, thousands of community moderators orchestrated protests where they shut down subreddits entirely and major Reddit blackouts soon ensued. That’s a whole lot of ‘404 Error’ screens. 

r/Canada moderators, for example, left this note on their homepage as an explanation for their community going dark:

"Good day, until midnight on June 13, 2023, r/canada will remain closed. A recent Reddit policy change threatens to kill many beloved third-party mobile apps, making many quality-of-life features not seen in the official mobile app permanently inaccessible to users. If you, or someone you know has a visual impairment - these changes will also block the tools they use to access Reddit, as the Reddit website and official app are ill-designed and un-equipped to aid those with accessibility issues."

Reddit’s team could and should have anticipated these kinds of responses. But instead of offering reassurance, Reddit responded swiftly with a letter that instilled fear in the moderators of these communities, and appeared to be aimed at pitting moderators against one another:

“If there are mods here who are willing to work towards reopening this community, we are willing to work with you to process a Top Mod Removal request or reorder the mod team to achieve this goal if mods higher up the list are hindering reopening. We would handle this request and any retaliation attempts here in this modmail chain immediately.”

Communities like r/Canada and multiple others reopened their doors to avoid conflict and keep their communities alive while stressing that meaningful remedial action had not yet occurred and that users were still looking for outstanding API concerns to be addressed.

On June 15, Reddit released an announcement titled ‘Key Facts to Understanding Reddit’s Recent API Updates.’ In it, Reddit motions that their API changes aimed to address pressing concerns related to infrastructure, finances, user privacy, security, and overall platform experience. Although these core platform aspects should be analyzed, addressed, and updated accordingly, it’s clear the impact of these changes were viewed very negatively by users, and seen as an unwelcome step away from the Reddit they know and love.

For now, these users must play a waiting game: Will Reddit’s executives make additional changes that address key concerns, or will they stick to their guns and move forward, regardless?

With major social media platforms like Reddit and Twitter making such major changes to the experience of users against their will, it’s time to consider a different vision of social media, where users, not big tech executives, are in control.

Decentralized community platforms, anyone?

I predict that platforms like Bluesky and Mastodon, powered by blockchain technology, will gain even more steam as users grow frustrated with being messed with by social platforms. By embracing decentralized platforms, users will take ownership of their online communities, mitigate central authority concerns, and foster trust and transparency. 

We could look at Meta’s new Twitter competitor Threads, as a half step. Although not powered by Web3, Threads stands, in the words of my coworker Brennan Caldwell, “at a crossroads between the crumbling centralized social media model of the tech boom and a proposed decentralized future.” A shift is coming.

Although it's uncertain how Reddit's API changes fit into this future, it's essential to acknowledge the larger conversation surrounding the evolution of social media and community platforms. I am keeping an eye on the horizon, where innovative Web3 technology may pave the way for a more empowering and sustainable online ecosystem. Perhaps, we can shape a future where community management thrives, moderation is fair, and individuals have more control over their online experiences. In the meantime, my inbox remains open for any beta invitations to platforms looking to flip the script.

(Seriously, let me know.)

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Blokhaus is a marketing and communications agency with a focus on Web3 and emerging tech. Since we were founded in 2021, Blokhaus has supported numerous high-profile projects and activations around the globe, working in partnership with some of the biggest brands in the world. To learn more about our work, check out our Case Studies. To get in touch, visit our Contact Us page.