Reddit to protesting mods: Reopen or be removed as API protest continues

The Reddit Blackout protesting the company’s unpopular API changes is continuing, nearly five days after the “48-hour” action started on Monday. But, contrary to what Reddit is saying publicly, it seems like the company has had enough of the protests.

On Friday, moderators of popular Reddit communities began sharing messages they received from the company pressuring them to reopen the subreddits they moderate, or face removal as a mod of the community. 

The message stands in stark contrast to Reddit CEO Steve Huffman’s comments throughout the past few days. Earlier this week, Huffman downplayed the protest and any impact it was having on Reddit’s business. Thousands of subreddits went private on Monday in order to push Reddit to reconsider its plan to charge exorbitant fees for API access to third-party developers who create Reddit-based apps. Reddit’s decision to charge as much as millions of dollars per year has already forced indie developers, like the one behind the popular Apollo for Reddit client, to shut down their apps.

Then, just yesterday, in an interview(opens in a new tab) with The Verge, Huffman claimed that the company wasn’t looking to force mods to reopen subreddits that continue to protest. Reddit also sent Mashable a “Key Facts” sheet with information about the API changes and the company’s position on the protest.

“We are not shutting down discussions or unilaterally reopening communities,” reads one section of the PDF. “Dissent, debate, and discussions are foundational parts of Reddit. We respect our communities’ ability to protest as long as mods follow our Moderator Code of Conduct.”

However, sometime between The Verge’s interview with Huffman and his conversation with NBC News that same evening, the Reddit CEO’s position on the protests appeared to change.

Speaking to NBC News, Huffman floated the idea of allowing Reddit’s users to vote on the removal of mods, likening their power over subreddits to “landed gentry.”

“The people who get there first get to stay there and pass it down to their descendants, and that is not democratic,” Huffman said while again downplaying the protests, claiming most Redditors don’t support the actions of a few mods.

Reddit’s message to the mods on Friday opens with an attempt to curb concerns that the API changes will affect moderation tools that many moderators depend on. However, the note quickly moves on to a call for mods who want to reopen the particular subreddit they moderate for. Such participation with the company in opposition to an active protest has drawn comparison to scabs(opens in a new tab) crossing a digital picket line.

“If there are mods here who are willing to work towards reopening this community, we are willing to work with you to process a Top Mod Removal request or reorder the mod team to achieve this goal if mods higher up the list are hindering reopening,” reads the message from Reddit to mods in r/funny and r/aww, as obtained by The Verge(opens in a new tab). “We would handle this request and any retaliation attempts here in this modmail chain immediately.”

Reddit’s message to these mods then appears to move to more of a threat of removal for mods who refuse to reopen.

“Our goal is to work with the existing mod team to find a path forward and make sure your subreddit is made available for the community which makes its home here,” it says. “If you are not able or willing to reopen and maintain the community, please let us know.”

This message sent directly to mods echoes comments(opens in a new tab) left on the public r/ModSupport subreddit forum, which was highlighted(opens in a new tab) by a Reddit moderator who’s subreddit went private “indefinitely” as part of the protest.

“If a moderator team unanimously decides to stop moderating, we will invite new, active moderators to keep these spaces open and accessible to users,” reads the post. “If there is no consensus, but at least one mod wants to keep the community going, we will respect their decisions and remove those who no longer want to moderate from the mod team.”

Before the protest began, around 3,000 subreddits vowed to go private for a two-day period starting on Monday. By the time the 48-hour action should’ve been winding down on Tuesday evening, more than 8,000 subreddits had joined the protest. As of publishing on Friday evening, more than 4,600 subreddits are still taking part(opens in a new tab) in the blackout.

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