Reddit’s mixed martial arts (MMA) community (r/MMA) recently went dark to protest against proposed changes to its application programming interface (API). But it wasn’t just r/MMA, as detailed by Twitter user, Aakash Gupta.
According to the report, 40 percent of Reddit went dark, which is a significant amount for one of the most popular social media sites on the Internet:
BREAKING:— Aakash Gupta Product Growth Guy (@aakashg0) June 12, 2023
~40% of Reddit is going dark for 48 hours.
Here’s what’s going on pic.twitter.com/mfJoPVhF5k
The massive Reddit protest comes after the company made a controversial announcement that it will introduce charges to third-party applications, which in turn will significantly affect costs associated with using the API (the code that allows third-party apps to access data and content, and build new features and functionality, such as user customization, according to TheSpec.com).
“Reddit offers free access to its API,” TheStar.com explained. “However, under the new terms, which take effect July 1, third-party apps that require more than 100 API queries per minute will be charged $0.24 for every 1,000 requests. Many applications that fall below that threshold — the vast majority of apps, according to Reddit’s CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman — can continue to access the API for free.”
For some context on the situation, Imgur — one of the most used online image-sharing and hosting services — charges $166 for 50 million API calls, while Reddit is allegedly asking for $12,000.
“BasicallyClean,” a moderator from r/MMA which boasts 2.3 million users, spoke with MMAMania.com about the situation in great detail.
Check out the interview below:
When did you become a Reddit moderator?
I became a mod on r/MMA in early 2018. I did leave the team for a brief period of time due to ongoing health issues but came back. Most recently, I’ve been handling Asking Me Anything (AMAs) for the subreddit and other external partnerships.
Why did r/MMA choose to go dark?
We went dark for a multitude of reasons.
(a) Reddit, up until about last year, didn’t really have moderation tools that worked at scale. The native tools on the site would be fine for a small subreddit but were completely inadequate for large subreddits that require an actual team of people to keep up with what’s happening.
Our team, as well as most other large subreddits, use the browser extensions Toolbox and RES (Reddit Enhancement Suite) in order to keep up with the flood of submissions and comments that a subscriber base of 2.3 million people generates, 24 hours a day.
The creators of these extensions don’t work for Reddit. They made them out of necessity as a volunteer passion project, and we’ve used these since I joined in 2018. Moderating large subreddits just isn’t practical without these tools.
Reddit’s API changes could impact these tools. When the CEO of Reddit did his AMA, he said they will not be affected (up in the body of the post — https://www.reddit.com/r/reddit/comments/145bram/addressing_the_community_about_changes_to_our_api/). However, when the creators of these tools talk to Reddit, they cannot get a straight answer as to whether they’ll be affected or not. “You *should* be okay” are the type of responses they get. Normally the CEO saying it will be fine should suffice, except I’ll cover that in a minute …
We find this to be just wholly unacceptable, especially when considering the CEO of Reddit, Steve Huffman (u/spez) admitted that the native mod tools provided by Reddit are not ready. When asked why you just wouldn’t wait until everything was ready to implement the API changes, there was no response.
(b) There’s a level of distrust between moderators and Reddit due to unkept promises and bizarre choices.
—-r/AskHistorians had a very well-written and sourced article on the broken promises from Reddit, but they are currently in the blackout as well.
(c) Instead of improving the moderator and user experience and actually creating things people wanted, Reddit attempted to implement bizarre features that nobody wanted, simply trying to copy other social media platforms. Things like Reddit Talk which has since been shuttered https://www.reddit.com/r/RedditTalk/ that was repeatedly attempted to be pushed onto r/MMA. Internally the mod team at r/MMA referred to this as “a solution in search of a problem”. They tried other stuff like Snoo NFTs https://nft.reddit.com/, and attempted to create a chat function that they promised would be opt-in by mods of each subreddit. They then forced it on all of us. We began receiving messages from users about being harassed in these chats, but we couldn’t access the chats, we couldn’t moderate them, and we couldn’t ban them for it because we couldn’t verify anything. But it was forced on us anyway, creating a huge headache.
They wasted all this money on all this stuff that nobody on the platform wanted, asked for, or used, and have now said they’re doing all this API stuff as a way to pursue “profitability”
(d) The only way to realistically moderate the subreddit on mobile is through third-party apps, which will be gone July 1st.
(e) The official Reddit app is not even handicapped accessible. People who have vision difficulties will be unable to use Reddit after July 1st.
(f) Our users who have used third-party applications to access our site will be left out in the cold
(g) The CEO of Reddit bizarrely accused the creator of Apollo, the most common 3rd party app to view Reddit on iOS, of extorting Reddit. CEO was unaware that all of the calls were being recorded, and the creator of Apollo was in Canada, a one party recording state. When the Apollo creator brought up this was false and leaked a phone call, the Reddit CEO just doubled down again.
What would r/MMA look like without moderation?
That’s an interesting question that would depend on the circumstances.
I believe we only had 9 or 10 active mods at that time. For that week, we banned 1,300 users (mostly temporary), removed 5,000 posts and over 13,000 comments, and performed over 31,000 mod actions to keep the place under control. This is all only with 9-10 ish mods using these 3rd party tools.
We were being brigaded by political groups, religious groups, and sports fans who had never seen MMA, and they were all looking for a fight, spewing any sort of racism, and death threats. We had people posting porn, swasticas, just anything you could ever possibly imagine.
Why do you think Reddit is choosing to make the developers pay for the API?
Well, they’re not just asking developers to pay for the API, and I doubt everyone would be against simply paying for an API. The problem is they’re asking developers to pay for an API at rates that are just astronomical.
For example, Imgur charges $166 for 50 million API calls, while Reddit wants $12,000.
We believe they’re intentionally doing this to shut down 3rd party creators in order to steer people to use Reddit’s mobile app to sell more ads, as some of these apps remove Reddit ads. We also believe this is all due to the fact that Reddit is trying to get a better valuation for their rumored upcoming IPO.
What can be done?
We love Reddit, and we are hoping that a blackout of two days will have them understand that it’s a special place and that they will reverse course to something that’s actually reasonable.
We have also started a new community at https://kbin.social/m/mma . Kbin is a decentralized sort of Reddit clone that can be seen on other platforms, such as Mastodon. We believe that eventually, social media in this form will move onto decentralized platforms and have made the move now to allow our users to continue talking about MMA during the Reddit blackout. What happens to us, Reddit, Kbin, and the status of the blackout is anyone’s guess at this point. There has been speculation that Reddit may step in during a prolonged blackout and remove mod teams to reopen the subreddits.
If the developers choose not to pay, what’s next?
Almost all will cease operations, as even if you could be profitable at that rate, getting the amount of cash flow required in such a short period of time is just not something that small businesses can do. We believe they announced it a month out on purpose to prevent this from happening.
Most important, why is this important? And why should people know about what is happening?
A lot of us before platforms like Facebook got really big, spent time on message boards, and they become little communities. And with that comes shared experiences, friendships and great memories.
Back when Reddit was still small and bootstrapped and didn’t have a lot of features or tools, they relied on developers who donated their time to make things like Toolbox and RES to make the site function.
r/MMA itself has had everyone from Dana White to Scott Coker, to Don Frye to Daniel Cormier to Sakuraba to amateur fighters you’ve never heard of, on for AMA’s, to share their experiences.
I had a high-ranking PR person in an MMA promotion once tell me that the promoter of their organization reads r/MMA “constantly” for news.
None of that happens without great user accessibility, mods willing to volunteer their time, and developers who held the place together with duct tape for years.
So when combined with the previous unkept promises, bizarre product choices, and what appears to be vindictive practices against the very people who helped build the place, we feel like this may be a turning point for Reddit as a platform. Reddit and r/MMA have become a powerful part of the MMA social landscape, as we are able to not only aggregate news at scale but also bring in MMA stars, and we don’t want Reddit to fall apart like Digg did.
Rebuilding a community at the scale of what ours already is, is the absolute last thing I and others want to do, so we hope for a Reddit that is much more transparent and considerate of all of the people who helped build this place when an IPO was a fantasy and work together to help solve Reddit’s desired profitability issues.
“The beatings will continue until morale improves” is not a long-term customer service strategy.
As of today (June 13, 2023), there are currently 8,000 subreddits blocked out, 28,000 moderators of those subreddits, and these subreddits cover 2.79 billion subscribers.
Whether you like r/MMA or not, there is no doubt that it is a major player in MMA fandom, and losing it would be detrimental. Before social media, message boards like The Underground and Sherdog were a place where MMA fans came together to talk about the sport. While those websites still exist, r/MMA captured the magic of those sites and gave a place for fans to congregate online.
Hopefully, greed and financial mismanagement won’t ruin r/MMA, but those two things have ruined and destroyed millions of businesses in the past.
MMAmania.com reached out to Reddit for comment but did not get a response.
Shortly after our interview with BasicallyClean, r/MMA moved to an indefinite blackout in the wake of a leaked memo from Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, who suggested the protest would “pass” and offered zero accountability for the turmoil.
r/MMA announcement: Please retweet— BasicallyClean r/MMA (@BasicallyClean) June 14, 2023
r/MMA will indefinitely continue to participate in the #RedditBlackout after initially only agreeing to two days
Decision is due to a leaked memo from Reddit CEO Spez today, who said it would "pass" & took zero responsibility for the situation pic.twitter.com/zsPLYdeEMx
Stay tuned to MMAmania.com for more details on this still-developing story.