ELI5: Why Is John Oliver the New Face of the Reddit API Protest?

ELI5: Why Is John Oliver the New Face of the Reddit API Protest?

After thousands of subreddits went dark to protest Reddit’s decision to charge money for API access, the revolt continues with a new figurehead. Redditors in some major subreddits have flooded their respective communities with photos of British comedian John Oliver instead of the typically posted content.

The new initiative to protest Reddit’s API decision began on Friday when the moderators of r/pics posted a message to the subreddit following the blackout earlier last week. The mods asked the 30 million members to decide the future of the community following the seemingly failed protest: Return to normal operations or allow users to exclusively post photos of Oliver. At the time the poll finished, the comment suggesting only posting photos of Oliver was upvoted 37,331 times while the comment suggesting the subreddit return to normal was downvoted 2,329 times. Thus began a new era of r/pics — one of Reddit’s largest communities — with Rule 1 of the subreddit now reading “All posts must be images of John Oliver looking sexy.”

The moderators of r/gifs and r/aww ran similar polls, with their respective constituents voting in much the same pattern. Now, three of the largest subreddits currently active on the website are shrines to Oliver. Oliver himself even heralded the effort, tweeting his support on Saturday along with a thread of photos users could post to r/pics.

Last week, hundreds of subreddits across the platform announced that they would be going private for at least two days in order to protest Reddit’s decision to charge third-party developers for API access, which was announced in April. A platform’s API allows third-party developers to create apps and products that use metrics and infrastructure from that platform, similar to programs like Twitterific and Tweetbot. Apollo is a third-party Reddit viewer that relies on the platform’s API to generate a certain browsing experience. For avid Redditors, Apollo fixed many of the issues that the official mobile app seemingly overlooked. Apollo’s founder and developer Christian Selig took to Reddit (of all places) to announce that the platform was charging $US12,000 per 50 million requests to access its API — an unsustainable figure for most programmers — and said the app will be forced to shut down.

The protest for most subreddits has come and gone and the company said last week that 80% of the top 5,000 are up and running, including some of the biggest. Meanwhile, Reddit’s CEO Steve Huffman has done nothing but fan the flames of whatever burning embers remain. In an interview with NPR, Huffman called the protestors a “small group that’s very upset,” and claimed that users want to engage with their communities and protesting moderators are keeping them from doing so. Huffman compared Reddit moderators to landed gentry in an interview with NBC, essentially shifting the onus onto mods. Huffman also said in this interview that he may allow ordinary users to vote out moderators, whereas the current policy only allows higher-ranking moderators or Reddit staff to remove the volunteers from the position.

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