The big subreddit protest of 2023 has Reddit right at the end of its rope. The company is reportedly handing out notices of a Thursday deadline to the biggest subs that still remain private, telling them they need to offer a reopening plan, or else they’ll do… something.
The messages sent to subreddit moderators by the Reddit employee account ModCodeofConduct were seen by The Verge. The messages did not include any mention of punishment if the subs didn’t comply beyond “further action,” but the threat seemed to be the company’s end of the line. The company tried to cite Rule 4 of its Moderator Code of Conduct for the violations, but that stipulation applies more to moderators remaining active in their own communities, not about whether those communities are private or not.
On Tuesday, Reddit asked mods for reopening plans in the next two days, but now that the deadline looms, the site is squeezing mods even harder than before. The company reportedly told moderators that the privatised subs were “not going to continue” and that the communities “will not remain private beyond the time frame we’ve allowed for confirmation of plans here.”
Gizmodo reached out to Reddit for comment, but we did not immediately hear back.
This isn’t the first time the message board has gone after the mods specifically. CEO Steve Huffman compared moderators to “landed gentry” for taking the subs private in protest about the company’s plans to charge for the use of its site tools. The site has taken the tact that the moderators’ opinions were not the opinion of the full Reddit community and has threatened to replace them. However, that messaging doesn’t really track when members of one of the biggest subs like r/aww and r/pics voted overwhelmingly to protest the API changes with pictures of comedian John Oliver.
Some of the biggest subreddits that were involved in the initial API protest have again opened their doors to the public in restricted mode. This means that outsiders can see the posts, but they cannot comment. According to the Reddit protest tracking site Reddark, subreddits like r/music with more than 30 million subs and r/mildlyinteresting with more than 20 million subs are still restricted. Meanwhile, r/Nintendo, r/Gamedev, r/harrypotter, and many more with more than 1 million subscribers remain private.
Other than the heaps of bad press, what may be getting deep in Reddit’s pants is its engagement numbers. According to data from Similarweb, traffic decreased nearly 5% on June 12 during the start of the protests, but it was back up to near-normal levels as of June 29. New Similarweb data seen by TechCrunch showed daily traffic declined by close to 7% and time spent on the site declined 16% from June 12 through 13. This also hit visits to the site’s ad portal, leading to a decline in ad traffic.
Though traffic is inherently a wonky business, especially for a protest. Similarweb previously told Gizmodo that r/pics traffic had actually increased once it started its John Oliver protest. Huffman has reportedly told employees in an internal email he does not expect the protest to impact the bottom line.
But the black eye suffered by the company has gotten under its skin enough that Reddit now directly threatens subreddit moderators. Google has even noticed how much worse its Search is without users putting “Reddit” in their queries.