Reddit Blackout protest explained: Why are subreddits going private?

Reddit Blackout
(Image credit: Ben Wilson / Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Reddit, a popular news aggregation and discussion site with over 50 million daily active users, is "going dark," with most of its subreddit communities choosing to enter private mode.
  • Users are doing this to protest upcoming Reddit API price increases that will make it impossible for third-party app and bot developers to afford and maintain their services.
  • Most users consider third-party Reddit apps must-haves, as the official app is clunky, slow, and laden with ads. Moderators also say bots are critically important for detecting and removing large volumes of inappropriate content.
  • The "Reddit Blackout" is expected to last until June 14, though many subreddits plan to stay private indefinitely until Reddit's administration makes concessions.

Whether you've looked up answers to questions online, searched for communities and discussions to join, or simply like to keep up with the latest news stories, we're willing to bet good money that you've visited Reddit. Since it was founded in 2005, the forum site has become an invaluable resource for many, with over 50 million users using it actively on a daily basis. Right now, though, the vast majority of its subreddit communities have "gone dark" by entering private mode, a setting that stops people from being able to see the posts within.

You're probably wondering why this is happening, so let us explain: the Reddit Blackout is a protest against the site's plan to raise its API (Application Programming Interface) pricing that was announced on May 31. The new costs are so high that they'll force popular third-party Reddit apps like Apollo, BaconReader, Narwhal, Sync, and others to shut down at the end of June, with developers saying they'd have to pay well over $1 million per month just to keep the lights on — a price they simply can't afford. 

These apps are widely considered to be must-haves if you browse Reddit often, as they're designed to be clean, fast, and snappy, and often offer lots of nifty customization options. The official Reddit mobile app, by contrast, has long been criticized for its large size, slow speed, and the high number of ads it presents to users.

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Notably, these costs will apply to many automated bots as well. These bots are used by subreddit moderators to detect and remove spam and NSFW (Not Safe-For-Work) content, as well as the accounts posting it. Therefore, many users are concerned that if bots become unaffordable, it will become significantly harder to keep inappropriate posts in check.

The community wrote an open letter to the site's administration in an effort to call attention to the issues that the new policy will bring, but so far, dialogue with Reddit's staff hasn't gone well. This is ultimately what prompted the Reddit Blackout protest, which is expected to last from now until June 14 for most subreddits. Some, though, have indicated they'll stay private indefinitely until Reddit makes concessions. You can learn more about the protest by heading to this post on the r/Save3rdPartyApps subreddit, which is ironically one of the few subs not in private mode right now.

The list of subreddits participating in the protest is incomplete and continues to grow, but among them are some of Reddit's largest communities. These include r/funny (40+ million subscribers), r/gaming (30+ million), r/memes (20+ million), and countless others across a wide range of themes and topics.

Reddit goes down during Reddit Blackout

While much of Reddit is blacked out due to the protests, the site itself is supposed to work normally. That, however, wasn't the case recently, as Reddit went down for roughly an hour and a half. Now, though, the site seems to be back online and can be used as you usually would.

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It's unclear what the cause of the outage was. Perhaps the issue was caused by the blackout protest somehow. In any event, we'll keep this section updated with the latest information if the site goes down again.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.

With contributions from