For better or for worse, there are few social media platforms whose users are as organized as those on Reddit. The message board site which has more than 50 million daily visitors is known for hosting the Internet’s largest special interest forums (from gardening to gaming to deep sea creatures). These subreddits are ready to engage relevant groups and produce a coordinated backlash. In January 2021 users of a handful of finance-related subreddits caused the second-largest stock trading day for a single company for game retailer, GameStop, in protest against concentrated Wall Street powers that be selling short Actions. During the pandemic, two user-led protests, one against the site’s lax hate speech rules and one against the lax Covid-19 disinformation policies, managed to convince Reddit to permanently shut down popular forums for harmful content. (Other protests have been less noble, like the 2015 backlash to the Reddits CEO who at the time banned controversial subreddits, like the one dedicated to hating fat people.)
Over the past week, this class action lawsuit has once again turned against Reddit in a protest against the company’s decision to start charging app developers for accessing the platform’s wealth of information from posts to comments to metadata via the tools of the platform. Reddit site or the application programming interface (API ). Since the decision was announced, nearly 9,000 subreddits have been taken offline. The blackout, which started on June 12, was expected to last just 48 hours, but after Reddit confirmed it would still go ahead with the allegations and Steve Huffman, its chief executive, told staff the protest will pass, it continues indefinitely. . Reddit said the decision to charge for API access was made in response to the rise of generative AI. Tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard use Reddit data to train their responses Reddit is now saying it should get a cut in profits. The company is also planning a potential initial public offering this year, which would be buoyed by a sudden influx of cash. For their part, the developers behind the apps that will be affected by the charge have said that continuing to use the Reddits API as they currently do could end up costing them $20 million a year — a price so steep that many apps have said they are forced to close.
This may seem like a story that only affects you if you’re on Reddit or involved with third-party apps that rely on its API (the company has withdrawn some of its charges, saying the apps were built specifically to help people with disabilities and those who use the API infrequently will be exempt from the rule). But the impact of this decision and, in particular, the backlash to it will affect how we use the internet in general and what we see on it.
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The volume of user-generated and highly specialized content on Reddit has been a hidden scaffolding for much of the internet for years: from its data used for other apps or to train artificial intelligence bots, to providing information to search engines. In fact, all of the major search engines are now heavily dependent on Reddit data mining. They often provide Reddit links in their results (a common trick to getting better answers to a search is to simply add reddit to the end of it) and use Reddit data to refine their results more generally by looking at popular and vetted content on the site. This meant that within days of the blackout starting, search engines were generating worse results for users. Reddit posts and comments offered as search results, some of which were hosted on subreddits dating back more than a decade, were suddenly unavailable.
The impact is not limited to just the blackout period. Even if every subreddit returns, Reddit will never be the same. It relies heavily on the unpaid work of its volunteer moderators, many of whom in turn relied on third-party apps that used Reddit’s API to help identify inappropriate content. A big reason for the blackout is that the moderators need these apps and have pledged to shut down the site permanently if they can use them any longer. If the moderators leave, the users will also leave, which means a drastic drop in new content generated.
This cycle would destroy Reddit and harm the rest of the internet: moderators leave the platform, search engines no longer direct users to it, fewer apps access it, and more users leave. Reddit is primarily a home for unique and special-interest communities, whose appeal wanes when millions of people stop using it. Some pundits have likened this controversy to what’s happening with Twitter: Executives are betting on making sudden changes to the site in an effort to boost profitability, hoping the backlash from users doesn’t make these cost-cutting measures redundant. (Reddit just fired five percent of its staff, and Huffman even praised Elon Musk’s handling of Twitter in a recent TV interview). Reddit user base.
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All the evidence suggests that users won’t accept these changes quietly. Reddit has succeeded where other forums have failed. What makes it special is that it has never been like any other platform. This outcry has been going on for so long precisely because Reddit users are busy no matter what. Whatever happens, this will simply not pass.
[See also: The internet is unusable now]
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