The Reddit Blackout Is A Labor Action

It seems that Reddit CEO Steve Huffman’s latest gambit in the ongoing fight with moderators and users over API pricing is to claim that actually, it’s that he’s pro-democracy.

“If you’re a politician or a business owner, you are accountable to your constituents. So a politician needs to be elected, and a business owner can be fired by its shareholders,” he said.

“And I think, on Reddit, the analogy is closer to the landed gentry: The people who get there first get to stay there and pass it down to their descendants, and that is not democratic.”

Ben Werdmuller has some thoughts on what a democratic Web 2.0 actually would look like.

But the platforms themselves continued to be built, run, and funded by an elite few. There was no democratization of power or equity. As has long been the case with mass media, the users were not the customers; they were the product being sold.


This has the potential to be a radical change. Once users realized that they have power as a community, the fundamental dynamics of these platforms changes. You can no longer engage in adversarial business practices: there’s nothing wrong with making money, but it will need to be in a way that aligns with the people who give a platform its value.

Of course, the rub is what Werdmuller says in passing above: users are the product, as Huffman himself (accidentally?) confessed.

Still, he said the company’s plan was never to kill third-party apps. At the same time, Huffman acknowledged that if those users instead browsed with Reddit’s own app, it would shore up the company’s bottom line.

"And the opportunity cost of not having those users on our platform, on our advertising platform, is really significant," he said. "At the end of the day, it’s simply expensive to run an app like Reddit."

I’m going to give Jason Koebler for Vice on the dynamics at play here the next-to-last word.

Reddit wants to profit off of the unpaid labor of its moderators but is unwilling to incur the costs associated with its API to do so. This is the same sin that Reddit itself is accusing third-party app developers and AI companies of committing. Reddit is getting something (thousands of hours of unpaid labor, healthy, thriving communities against which it can sell advertisements) for nothing but the cost of serving its API. It is apparently sick of this arrangement, and hopes that it can continue to get thousands of hours of unpaid labor and thriving communities without incurring costs to do so.

What’s happening on Reddit isn’t a "blackout".

It’s a strike.