Tech

Reddit admits more moderator protests could hurt its business

Reddit filed to go public on Thursday (PDF), revealing various details of the social media company’s inner workings. Among the revelations, Reddit acknowledged the threat of future user protests and the value of third-party Reddit apps.

On July 1, Reddit enacted API rule changes—including new, expensive pricing —that resulted in many third-party Reddit apps closing. Disturbed by the changes, the timeline of the changes, and concerns that Reddit wasn’t properly appreciating third-party app developers and moderators, thousands of Reddit users protested by making the subreddits they moderate private, read-only, and/or engaging in other forms of protest, such as only discussing John Oliver or porn.

Protests went on for weeks and, at their onset, crashed Reddit for three hours. At the time, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman said the protests did not have “any significant revenue impact so far.”

In its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), though, Reddit acknowledged that another such protest could hurt its pockets:

While these activities have not historically had a material impact on our business or results of operations, similar actions by moderators and/or their communities in the future could adversely affect our business, results of operations, financial condition, and prospects.

The company also said that bad publicity and media coverage, such as the kind that stemmed from the API protests, could be a risk to Reddit’s success. The Form S-1 said bad PR around Reddit, including its practices, prices, and mods, “could adversely affect the size, demographics, engagement, and loyalty of our user base,” adding:

For instance, in May and June 2023, we experienced negative publicity as a result of our API policy changes.

Reddit’s filing also said that negative publicity and moderators disrupting the normal operation of subreddits could hurt user growth and engagement goals. The company highlighted financial incentives associated with having good relationships with volunteer moderators, noting that if enough mods decided to disrupt Reddit (like they did when they led protests last year), “results of operations, financial condition, and prospects could be adversely affected.” Reddit infamously forcibly removed moderators from their posts during the protests, saying they broke Reddit rules by refusing to reopen the subreddits they moderated.

“As communities grow, it can become more and more challenging for communities to find qualified people willing to act as moderators,” the filing says.

Losing third-party tools could hurt Reddit’s business

Much of the momentum for last year’s protests came from users, including long-time Redditors, mods, and people with accessibility needs, feeling that third-party apps were necessary to enjoyably and properly access and/or moderate Reddit. Reddit’s own technology has disappointed users in the past (leading some to cling to Old Reddit, which uses an older interface, for example). In its SEC filing, Reddit pointed to the value of third-party “tools” despite its API pricing killing off many of the most popular examples.

Reddit’s filing discusses losing moderators as a business risk and notes how important third-party tools are in maintaining mods:

While we provide tools to our communities to manage their subreddits, our moderators also rely on their own and third-party tools. Any disruption to, or lack of availability of, these third-party tools could harm our moderators’ ability to review content and enforce community rules. Further, if we are unable to provide effective support for third-party moderation tools, or develop our own such tools, our moderators could decide to leave our platform and may encourage their communities to follow them to a new platform, which would adversely affect our business, results of operations, financial condition, and prospects.

Since Reddit’s API policy changes, a small number of third-party Reddit apps remain available. But some of the remaining third-party Reddit app developers have previously told Ars Technica that they’re unsure of their app’s tenability under Reddit’s terms. Nondisclosure agreement requirements and the lack of a finalized developer platform also drive uncertainty around the longevity of the third-party Reddit app ecosystem, according to devs Ars spoke with this year.

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