The Reddit blackout is a good start, but it’s not enough. Here’s a better strategy.
The past week, thousands of Reddit communities have taken part in a “blackout”, where they set the communities to private and made them inaccessible. This is being done in protest of an upcoming change in Reddit policy, which states that they’ll be charging developers for access to their API. Basically, this means that anyone who wants to make a third party Reddit app will have to pay Reddit a fee to do so. Christian Selig, the developer of a Reddit app called “Apollo”, said that he would have to pay Reddit somewhere around $20 million a year to keep his app running. Selig said his app would be pulled at the end of June, right before Reddit’s new policy takes effect. Many of the site’s moderators, who are unpaid volunteers, rely on third party apps like Selig’s to moderate, and many users also use these apps instead of the default Reddit app.
Also affected by the Reddit blackout are Google results. Adding “Reddit” to the end of a Google search has become common practice for many people seeking help or troubleshooting, since most of the other results are often irrelevant junk from sites abusing SEO for increased visibility, or Quora, which is full of convoluted, long, and ultimately useless replies. Like it or not, Reddit has become a useful source of information for those with problems. Now because of the blackout, Googlers are starting to realize just how truly useless the search engine has become for finding things.
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman’s response was dismissive, saying that he expected the “blow up” to pass. The original plan was to “blackout” the boards for 48 hours, but many boards have extended that to indefinitely after Huffman’s apparent disregard for the concerns of the Reddit community. His exact quote, from an internal memo:
“There’s a lot of noise with this one. Among the noisiest we’ve seen. Please know that our teams are on it, and like all blowups on Reddit, this one will pass as well.”
It gets worse.
After the 48 hours passed, many boards refused to open back up, thanks in part to Huffman’s dismissive response. Reports began coming in on other social media sites that Reddit administrators and “super-mods” were going in and reopening some of the boards themselves, then removing the moderators taking part in the protest and replacing them with moderators who were willing to toe the line. Essentially, “liberal and progressive” Reddit used old-school strikebreaker techniques to forcibly reopen the site. As of this writing, some boards have also voluntarily opened back up, while others remain private in protest.
I have an alternative method of protest that Reddit moderators can implement, one that would be arguably more effective than simply blacking out the boards.
Keep the boards open, but refuse to moderate them.
I’m calling for a Reddit moderator strike.
If Reddit moderators want to really send a message to the site’s owners, they can simply sit back and do nothing. Disable all the auto-moderator bots too, any filters, whatever. Let the site turn into one giant free-for-all of spam, racism, flame wars, and shitposting, making the site not advertiser-friendly and hurting Reddit’s bottom line more than blacking out the boards.
This would also cause an exodus of users, since peoples’ feeds would suddenly become filled with stuff they don’t want to read or see, like racism, homophobia, or Pepe the frog. If something like this were to happen 4chan would most certainly join in on the fun, causing the site to effectively burn to the ground as Reddit’s super-mod team struggled to keep up with the arduous task of moderating millions of posts and fending off a full-scale raid from not just 4chan but also disgruntled Redditors protesting the API policy. Their only real recourse would be to shut the boards for a while and hope everything blows over. Meanwhile advertisers begin pulling out of Reddit, since they don’t want to be associated with this controversy, and they certainly don’t want to be associated with an unmoderated public forum full of trolls posting offensive stuff. At this point if Reddit doesn’t want to lose money and save what’s left of their public image they’ll abandon their plans to charge people for access to their API and yield to the demands of developers.
The blackout was a good idea, but now it’s time to up the ante and show the owners of Reddit that their policy is unacceptable, and if they won’t listen to their moderators and users then they’re going to pay the price, quite literally.