clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Reddit’s ongoing protest, explained

And why so many subreddits are flooded with images of John Oliver

Artwork of Reddit snoos, with one peeking out from the crowd. Image: Reddit

Reddit users are still revolting en masse against planned changes to the platform’s API. The social media site experienced an outage on June 12, as more than 7,600 subreddits — including some of the largest gaming-related subreddits — went dark in protest of changes to third-party API pricing, just days after a disastrous AMA with Reddit CEO Steve Huffman. Other subreddits are simply no longer accepting new posts or edits.

This blackout was slated to run from June 12 to June 14, but some mods and communities planned to continue protesting until “the issue is adequately addressed,” according to the website Save 3rd Party Apps.

Despite the protests, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman has held steady on the API pricing changes. And while a number of subreddits resumed normal activity after the duration of the official blackout, a handful of begun protesting in more interesting ways — including flooding their subreddits with images of John Oliver, and switching community labels to NSFW (not safe for work).

Why are Redditors protesting?

On April 18, Reddit announced it would update access to its API, which notably included the introduction of a paid model for third-party apps. It would require “premium access for third parties who require additional capabilities and higher usage limits,” according to the announcement.

The same week, developers of a number of third-party apps — including Apollo and Reddit Is Fun — said that the new API pricing would make it unaffordable for those apps to continue working on Reddit. Another popular Reddit reader app, BaconReader, would also likely be affected. A number of users have compared this change to Twitter’s recent move to charge for “premium” third-party API access.

Notably, Christian Selig, the creator of Apollo (a third-party app for using Reddit on iOS), said that he would would be shutting down the app on June 30 as a result of the new API pricing. He announced this decision in a lengthy post in the subreddit, which now has more than 800,000 members. In the post, Selig detailed how this change to third-party API access makes creating and maintaining the apps unsustainable.

On Reddit and Twitter, Selig said that it would take $20 million a year to keep the app running. Apollo made 7 billion API requests last month, according to reporting from The Verge.

Outrage from users only grew as CEO Steve Huffman, posting under the username u/spez, participated in an AMA on Friday. He shared a post explaining the rationale and reasoning behind the changes. At the end of the post, Huffman wrote, “I will be sticking around to answer questions along with other admins. We know answers are tough to find, so we’re switching the default sort to Q&A mode.”

Despite this, many of the top comments on the thread are unanswered. Other responses were left unclarified. In one thread, Huffman wrote about Selig: “His behavior and communications with us has been all over the place — saying one thing to us while saying something completely different externally; recording and leaking a private phone call — to the point where I don’t know how we could do business with him.” Selig responded: “Please feel free to give examples where I said something differently in public versus what I said to you. I give you full permission.”

Later, Huffman shared that non-commercial and accessibility-focused apps would continue to have free access to Reddit, to which another user responded, “answer an actual question you fucking coward.”

Polygon has reached out to Reddit’s press contact email address for comment on the API pricing and the protest and will update this article when we receive a response.

How many subreddits participated in the blackout?

More than 7,600 subreddits participated in the blackout. A Twitch stream called “reddark_247” kept track of participation in real time. Some of the largest subreddits participated, including r/funny, r/aww, r/music, and r/videos.

A huge swath of participating subreddits were gaming-related, with the turnout representing some of the largest video game forums on the internet. These included r/gaming, which has more than 37 million members, as well as individual subreddits for popular publishers and games, like r/zelda, r/PS5, r/Nintendo, r/NoMansSkyTheGame, r/Warhammer, r/Fallout, and r/WoW.

On June 12, Reddit experienced an outage resulting from the number of blackouts. According to, outages occurred around 8 a.m. PDT and lasted for two and a half hours.

That same day Selig posted his thanks to the community for engaging in the blackout in the r/apolloapp subreddit. He echoed these sentiments, when Polygon reached out via Twitter DM for comment:

I really hope Reddit listens. There’s a really clear, easy path forward where they listen to communities, moderators, and developers, committing a concrete, viable amount of time for us to address the API changes (beyond the existing short 30 days), and apologize for and recognize that this transition was not handled well. Giving a little bit here I think goes a long way to making the community feel heard, something I don’t think it’s felt over the course of these last few weeks.

What does it mean for a subreddit to be a private community?

A subreddit “blackout” means the mods have set the sub to private. When subreddits are private, the pages become inaccessible, even to community members. Only mods and approved community members can see those pages.

When you pull up a subreddit that’s been set to private, a pop-up will note that it’s a private community. These pop-ups also have a space for an explanation of some sort, and all of the subreddits Polygon has visited have included blurbs in these pop-ups that explain that the action is in protest of changes to API pricing. The r/zelda subreddit’s private community note, for example, explains that mods chose to go dark following a community vote, and it directs fans to gather on Discord instead.

A screenshot of a pop up that appears on the r/zelda subreddit, saying that it is now a private community. Image: Reddit via Polygon

Some of the subreddits that hadn’t been set to private protested in other ways. On r/photoshopbattles — where users normally share funny photoshops based on a prompt image — users are posting black squares only in protest. On r/AmITheAsshole, a popular etiquette debate and story-sharing sub, mods locked the ability to make new posts and replies. Users are directed toward a pinned post about the blackout instead, in hopes of providing the most visibility to the issue.

A pinned post on r/games said the subreddit “tries to distance itself from meta incidents spanning the entire site.” It also cited the Ubisoft and Capcom video game showcases as a reason for staying live. However, the subreddit “will enter a ‘restricted mode’” as of Monday that will, for example, “have a sticky to raise awareness about the ongoing shutdown,” the post said.

Update (June 13): Christian Selig, developer behind the Apollo app, responded to Polygon’s request for comment. The story has been updated to reflect this new information.

Update (June 21): A number of subreddits participated in the blackout protest past the initial end date of June 14, as Reddit CEO Steve Huffman held steady on new API pricing changes. On June 16, Huffman told The Verge, “But the core of this one is the API pricing change. That’s our business decision. And we’re not undoing that business decision,” adding “We don’t have problems with protests.” In a June 15 interview with NBC News, Huffman also compared moderators to “landed gentry.”

On June 17, the large subreddit r/pics moved in response, calling for a vote among the community for how to move forward. “Anyway, we – the so-called ‘landed gentry’ – definitely want to comply with the wishes of the ‘royal court,’” moderators wrote in the post, referencing Huffman’s interview with NBC News. They gave the community a choice between returning to “normal operations” or only allowing “images of John Oliver looking sexy.” The latter option won, and now the sub is chock full of images of John Oliver. (I’ll leave whether these seem sexy up to readers — it’s all in the eyes of the beholder.)

Just two days later, r/aww joined in with a similar call. A post from moderators asked the community whether they’d like to return to normal or whether posts “must feature adorable content of John Oliver, Chiijohn, or anything else that closely resembles them.” The community voted for the latter.

On June 17, John Oliver himself chimed in on Twitter to voice his support, and supplied numerous photos of himself in various poses and outfits.

On June 20, mods of r/MildlyInteresting engaged in another form of protest — opening the subreddit but marking it NSFW. According to a post on r/ModCoord (a subreddit where moderators organize), moderators hadn’t planned to open the subreddit to sexually explicit content, but were rather doing it as a statement. Moderators of r/MildlyInteresting also said they were logged out of their account on “every single platform” and “locked out” — and that the whole mod team had been removed — an hour after changing the subreddit designation to NSFW. The mod team was later reinstated.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon