Reddit, one of the internet’s most popular community discussion platforms, is currently facing a wave of protests and backlash from its users. The controversy revolves around Reddit’s decision to charge fees for accessing its Application Programming Interface (API), which had been free since 2008. This move has sparked anger among Reddit users, as it jeopardizes the business models of third-party applications relying on the API. The ongoing feud has resulted in boycotts, subreddit blackouts, and creative expressions of discontent, such as labeling posts as NSFW or featuring comedian John Oliver. Concerns have been raised about the impact of generative AI and bad actors on the platform.
API fee controversy
In April, Reddit announced its decision to charge third parties for access to its API, a change that stirred discontent among users. Many third-party applications, which had been utilizing the API without cost, were now facing potential disruption to their business models. The protests intensified as users expressed their frustration by boycotting communities and making them private to impede posting activities. Some even adopted the NSFW label or posted pictures of comedian John Oliver to impact Reddit’s advertisers negatively. The CEO of Reddit, Steve Huffman, exacerbated the situation when a leaked internal memo revealed the platform’s refusal to back down, further fueling user sentiment against the API fee implementation.
The introduction of fees for accessing Reddit’s API poses challenges for various applications and tools. For instance, developer Christian Selig from Apollo stated that the new fees would force his app offline. Unlike Reddit, Apollo does not rely on ads for revenue generation. Furthermore, accessibility applications and tools used by subreddit moderators, responsible for managing specific topic-based communities within Reddit, could also be adversely affected by the API changes.
Generative AI and bad actors
Kevin Gosschalk, the CEO of Arkose Labs, believes that the issue extends beyond Reddit and is intertwined with generative AI. He highlights that bad actors are utilizing bots to create generative AI, leading to repercussions on all social platforms. The escalating API fees are a consequence of the proliferation of generative AI techniques. Bots scrape content from websites to train large language models, exploit the acquired data for profit, and circumvent API fees entirely. Notably, Reddit’s API has been employed in training large language models like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard, a competitor chatbot.
Historical context and user reactions
Reddit users have a history of engaging in protests and expressing their discontent over various platform-related matters. In the past, subreddit blackouts occurred as a response to decisions made by Reddit’s management. The termination of a Reddit employee and the hiring of a former British politician with controversial connections resulted in widespread user dissatisfaction, leading to temporary blackouts. Moreover, certain subreddits have been banned due to offensive content, including topics related to violence against women, far-right white nationalism, and explicit material.
The recent API fee implementation by Reddit has ignited a contentious battle between the platform and its users. The decision to charge for API access has raised concerns about the viability of third-party applications and tools, as well as the impact on accessibility and moderation within subreddit communities. Additionally, the rise of generative AI and the exploitation of scraped data by bad actors have contributed to the escalating API fees. It remains to be seen how Reddit will address these challenges and reconcile with its user base in the face of ongoing protests and discontent.