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Online messaging boards are protesting Reddit's controversial new fees

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Thousands of communities on the website Reddit have gone dark. It's an apparent protest by many users. Behind that protest is a big question across the internet right now. Who pays and who profits from social media? It would be hard to read about this issue on parts of Reddit today, so NPR's Bobby Allyn explains it here.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: The drama at Reddit is over something that sounds so technical it would send most people to sleep, an application programming interface - or API. It's understandable if you hear that and think, a what? Think of it this way, though - a digital bouncer guarding the Reddit website.

CHRISTIAN SELIG: There would be a bouncer in front of Reddit. And I would say, hey, bouncer, could you ask Reddit for all the comments on, like, this post I'm looking for? Or could you give me all the posts in a specific subreddit?

ALLYN: That's Christian Selig, a 29-year-old who lives in Nova Scotia. He developed one of the most popular third-party Reddit apps called Apollo about eight years ago. At the time, there was no official Reddit app.

SELIG: I started building it after I graduated university and I finished an internship at Apple. So I was kind of looking for what to do next. And I really love Reddit. So a new Reddit app kind of felt like the natural thing to try to build.

ALLYN: And his app became popular. It now has 1.5 million users a month, which is only a fraction of Reddit's traffic since it's one of the most popular sites on the internet. Selig's app works by going to the Reddit bouncer, getting the OK to grab data and loading what's happening on Reddit on his app. Until now, that process has been free. But now if you want Reddit data, you've got to pay the bouncer.

SELIG: For virtually all apps, the pricing is so high that things would either have to drastically change or things would have to shut down.

ALLYN: Selig's back of the envelope calculation was that he'd have to pay Reddit $20 million a year to keep the app going. The app's annual revenue does not come anywhere near that, so he's announcing his app is going out of business.

SELIG: It is really brutal because I love building this app. And for it to just suddenly, like - within two weeks, for it to just all crumble to nothing is, yeah, it really hurts.

ALLYN: Reddit has explained the new fees by saying it's time for third-party developers to pay their fair share. CEO Steve Huffman has said that popular AI services like GPT scrape Reddit for its wealth of online conversations, and that Reddit doesn't get anything from that arrangement. The new focus on making money comes as Reddit sets its sights on taking the company public later this year. Some discussion groups, known as subreddits, are going dark for 48 hours, others for longer. The aim is to bring Reddit to the negotiating table. Chris Mason (ph) is the moderator of a popular subreddit, Explain Like I'm Five, which is taking part in the boycott. He says third-party apps help him remove nasty comments quickly.

CHRIS MASON: You have users who are particularly egregious, like, very rude or those kinds of things. You can ban them directly from their comment on some of these apps, but you can't do that on the Reddit app.

ALLYN: Reddit says it's made some exceptions to the new fees. It says it will still provide free access to its data to apps that help with accessibility. And access to researchers and academics will also remain free.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.