Moderators of hundreds of Reddit forums, known as “subreddits”, shut down access to their groups on Monday to protest the company’s plan to charge for access to data outside developers need to run applications on the site.

Many have said that the new pricing system could lead to the disappearance of some of the most popular third-party apps, which many users rely on to browse and comment on the site. Others said the fees had sown uncertainty about the tools managers used to manage discussions. An estimated 57 million people visit the platform every day.

Reddit announced in April that it would begin charging select users on a large scale for access to its application programming interface, or API, the method by which outside entities can upload and process the vast selection of memes, of gifs, videos and social network conversation threads.

Reddit said it no longer wants to cede such a valuable asset to companies like Google, OpenAI and Microsoft, which use Reddit data to design artificial intelligence systems that many Silicon Valley players see as the next. great novelty.

“Reddit needs to be a stand-alone business, and to do that, we can no longer subsidize commercial entities that require the use of data at scale,” Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said in a town hall on Friday. on the site.

But the accusations sparked a backlash among volunteer moderators from the site’s various communities, who said they would shut down access to their groups for at least 48 hours, starting Monday, as part of what they called for a coordinated protest.

Moderators of some of Reddit’s most popular subreddits – including r/funny, which has over 40 million members, and r/gaming, r/Music and r/science, which each have over 30 million members – have took part in the protest by setting their pages to private and posting messages denouncing the new terms and rates.

Moderators for many of the smaller groups also disappeared as part of the protest.

For a brief period on Monday, the protest made it difficult for some users to access Reddit, as “a significant number of subreddits going private caused predictable stability issues,” a Reddit spokesperson said, adding that the problems had been resolved.

The developers of several popular apps said they would have to shut them down due to the new pricing system.

Apollo, an iOS app widely acclaimed by the mobile developer community for its design interface and rich features, plans to shut down on June 30, according to a post on Reddit by its developer, Christian Selig. According to him, Apollo would have to pay $20 million a year under the new pricing system.

At least three other Reddit apps — rif is fun for Reddit, ReddPlanet and Sync — have also announced plans to shut down on June 30, citing what they call unreasonable costs, tech news site The Verge reported.

Moderators of r/blind, a forum for blind and visually impaired users with more than 20,000 members, pointed out that the fee could threaten third-party apps that translate Reddit text into speech and allow blind and visually impaired users to participate in discussions on the site.

Noah Carver, one of r/blind’s moderators, said on behalf of his group, “The proposed changes to Reddit’s API will not only isolate blind users from a social network used by millions of people. , thus disconnecting us from the rest of the world; they will also largely decimate the communities of blind people — and people with disabilities in general — that have thrived on Reddit despite the company’s apparent indifference. »

Since its inception in 2005, Reddit has been known for embracing freedom of speech, freedom of code and freedom of data, which has allowed users to build tools and applications around the site, Sarah Gilbert said. a postdoctoral associate at Cornell University who studies content moderation and data ethics. She is also the moderator of the r/AskHistorians subreddit, which joined the protest.

Gilbert said the pricing plan could hurt the platform’s culture of volunteering, which sets it apart from other social media sites.

“It’s not just about people upset that they can’t use their favorite app anymore,” she said in an interview. “It’s about the loss of community or the fear of loss of community. »

Reddit spokesperson Tim Rathschmidt said the company has been in contact with various Reddit communities to “clear up any confusion regarding our data API terms, platform-wide policies, community support resources and timeline for new moderation tools.

He added that Reddit was spending millions of dollars in internet hosting fees and that it “needs to be compensated fairly to continue supporting high-use third-party apps.”

“Our pricing is based on usage levels that we measure to be comparable to our own costs,” he wrote in an email.

Mr. Rathschmidt added that some apps are more efficient and require far fewer API calls and that “Apollo is significantly less efficient than other third-party apps.”

“The vast majority of API users will not have to pay to access it; using third-party apps does not always require paid access,” he wrote, adding that access “is free for moderation tools and software bots.”

In response to accessibility concerns raised by groups such as r/blind, Rathschmidt said the company has offered exemptions from the new pricing for non-commercial apps that address accessibility issues. Several of these developers have signed agreements with Reddit.