Reddit communities are 'going dark' to protest changes that would hurt third-party apps

The subreddits object to pricing that could hurt apps like Apollo.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Reddit's potential threat to third-party apps is prompting a high-profile protest. Dozens of subreddits, including major examples like Earthporn, LifeProTips, ReactionGIFs and Videos, have declared they're "going dark" (that is, going private) starting June 12th in response to an API pricing increase they believe will shut out third-party clients. Some will resume public access after 48 hours, but others will "permanently" isolate themselves until Reddit addresses their concerns.

The protesters are also calling on users to message Reddit administrators, leave negative app reviews and boycott the social site. At the same time, they want participants to be "restrained, polite, reasonable and law-abiding" — threats and other rude behavior won't win people over, according to the organizers.

We've asked Reddit for comment. Christian Selig, the creator of popular client Apollo, says the API pricing would cost him $20 million per year. The developers of other apps, such as Narwhal and Reddit is Fun, have also warned that they can't afford the new prices and will likely shut down soon as a result. In the past, Reddit maintained that its pricing is "as equitable as possible" and that it was working to improve the efficiency of apps and reduce their costs.

As The Verge explains, moderators are as worried about the price change as users. Third-party Reddit apps frequently include customizations and other features that don't make their way into the official app, including moderator tools that help keep subreddits in check. Developers also fear the new API structure would prevent displaying not-safe-for-work content and limit ads that are key to making revenue.

This isn't the first time Reddit communities have fenced themselves off in protest. In 2015, the IAmA subreddit went private in objection to the sudden firing of communications director Victoria Taylor. In 2021, dozens of subreddits made a similar move to draw attention to COVID-19 misinformation that was allowed to spread on the platform. Reddit's responses have been mixed. It banned one community and quarantined 54 others after the misinformation protest, but those actions were for abuse rather than the disputed content.

Reddit's decision comes a few months after Twitter banned third-party apps and severely limited free API access. In both cases, the strategies effectively force users to rely on official apps, where companies can control more of the experience and generate more money from ads and (in Twitter's case) subscriptions. The fear, as you might guess, is that this leads to a stagnant platform where outsiders can't improve on the core formula.