A major blackout is underway at Reddit, the result of a massive user protest against policy changes that could affect how content is moderated. While the situation is complex, the story is becoming increasingly familiar on social media. It involves the erosion of the free internet, business models that overlook the users who built the app, and LGBTQ+/marginalized users facing the loss of safe online communities.
Reddit, like many social media companies at the moment, is seeking more direct monetization methods after diminishing returns on page views and ads. Specifically, Reddit is going to start charging the developers of third-party tools high fees to use its application programming interface (API) to integrate with the app. This has led many app developers to pull out, leaving users (particularly moderators) without the tools they need to work.
Reddit’s content moderators—a workforce made up entirely of volunteers, responsible for keeping hate speech and misinformation out of communities—have staunchly opposed the policy change. After the company ignored their concerns, over 8,8000 forums, or subreddits, switched to private on June 12 in protest, leading to a widespread content blackout (and a full site crash). Although the blackout was due to end two days later, around 3,300 subreddits remain private according to a blackout tracker.
Seriously what is going on
Since its early days, Reddit has emerged as a unique social media experience. Its forum model allows users to build communities around specific topics, including popular queer subreddits like r/LGBT, r/ainbow, r/gaymers, r/askgaybros, r/asktransgender, r/elderqueers and many more. As the names of these subreddits imply, Reddit is also a common site for people to find answers and information from users around the world, which makes it an important resource for LGBTQ+ questioning people.
In order for users to feel safe to ask answers and find community, moderators are essential. And safety concerns for LGBTQ+ users are a persistent problem major companies fail to address. GLAAD recently released its annual Social Media Safety Index, which evaluates how well social media platforms are supporting LGBTQ+ safety, and the results were not great. Despite overall improvements (besides Twitter’s significant drop), Instagram was rated the highest scoring platform—with a meager 63% score.
As Reddit’s blackout drags on, the outcome for the protestors looks bleak. With the policy change due to take effect on July 1, CEO Steve Huffman has indicated a complete refusal to make concessions, referring to the volunteer moderators as “landed gentry.”