We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Shutterstock/Ink Drop

Explained: Why have thousands of Reddit forums gone dark and what does AI have to do with it?

Reddit’s decision has been met with dismay and frustration from moderators in charge of some of the website’s most popular forums.

ALMOST 5,000 OF the most popular forums on Reddit have remained ‘dark’ this week in protest over the social media site’s decision to change its policy around allowing third-party developers to use its data. 

The protest by Reddit users is the latest fallout from the arrival of AI programmes that hoover up data from across the internet, with Reddit CEO Steve Huffman unwilling to allow companies that build AI chatbots to have free access to the site, which they use to develop their large language models.

Founded in 2005, Reddit is a hugely popular global forum where news is aggregated, content is shared and discussions are freely accessible.

With 430 million monthly active users, Reddit is among the most visited social media sites in the world and is particularly popular for ‘redditors’ with niche hobbies and interests.

Users can join an online community forum called a subreddit, where they can share and consume text, video or pictures related to a specified topic. For example, here’s the subreddit for Monopoly enthusiasts, r/monopoly.

There are also large, popular subreddits with broader subjects like r/Music or r/funny. 

“Reddit needs to be a self-sustaining business, and to do that, we can no longer subsidize commercial entities that require large-scale data use,” Huffman wrote in a Reddit post last week. 

Paying the price

Access to Reddit’s application programming interface (API), which is the means by which other applications can connect to the platform, used to be available for free. The new policy announced by Reddit is set to change that by charging fees for access to site data. 

Third party apps are made for a variety of reasons. For example, the moderator of a subreddit may wish to create a bot to automate some of their tasks.

Or in the case of apps like Apollo, they redesign the look and interface of the site itself for easier use. Reddit’s layout is infamously clunky, especially on mobiles and the website didn’t have its own mobile app until 2016. 

The new policy will see third-parties who wish to access Reddit’s API paying $21,000 for 50 million access requests, which is expensive by industry standards, but not as high as Twitter, which now charges $42,000 for the same number.

When an app like Apollo needs to connect to and receive data from Reddit, that would be logged and the app company charged based on how many requests it makes (under the incoming policy).  

Reddit’s decision has been met with dismay and frustration from moderators of thousands of subreddits, who have made the decision to make their forums private, which means users must request access, but essentially means they are offline. 

If you were to open your favourite ‘sub’ this week, there is a good chance you were met with a dark window with a notification telling you the forum is now private, such as the one below. 

reddit music gone dark Reddit screenshot Reddit screenshot

Reddit’s move to start charging for data access was prompted by the recent release of large language models like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard.

The chatbots were partly trained using Reddit’s freely accessible data, in this case text, something Reddit wants to change by making third parties pay for access starting from Monday. 

Twitter also used to have a freely accessible API until recently, when Elon Musk took over the site and made its data private in an attempt to bring some much needed revenue into the struggling company’s coffers.  

In another example of AI programmes causing disruption online, Getty Images filed a lawsuit against Stability AI, the company that makes the image generating software Stable Diffusion, earlier this year. 

Many of the images produced by Stable Diffusion have a mangled form of the Getty Images water mark in them because it used the company’s images as source material, without consent from Getty. 

Collateral damage 

Apollo, which is the most popular app for using Reddit on Apple products, announced five days ago that it would be closing down on 30 June due to the unmanageable cost it would incur in maintaining the app once the new fees come in. 

The app company’s founder, former Apple employee Christian Selig, has been critical of the manner in which Reddit has dealt with the situation, especially since Huffman told employees in a memo this week that the protest would pass eventually. 

Selig made his thoughts known by retweeting an article from The Verge which reported the memo. 


The protest, which was originally signed up to by over 8,000 subreddits, was scheduled to run for two days and the number of dark accounts is already beginning to shrink, however, there are some subreddits that are still joining. 

What happens in the coming days remains to be seen but for now, much of one of the internet’s most popular social media sites remains in the dark. 

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel