Artificial Intelligence Reddit Marketing

After Reddit’s API pricing storm and subreddits going dark, can AI save the day?

By Sangita Iyer, Social Media Manager

Tug Agency


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August 18, 2023 | 7 min read

Reddit’s had a rocky spell: it announced charges for API access that third-party developers said would decimate their businesses, causing ‘black-out’ protests. Can AI fix the issue? Tug’s Sangita Iyer investigates.

The Reddit logo, on a phone, blurred

Could AI solve Reddit's problems? / Brett Jordan via Unsplash

Reddit, one of the internet's top 20 most trafficked sites, is no stranger to change, but the channel’s API pricing changes have sparked a series of protests, leaving the platform at a crossroads.

Interest in AI has grown immensely over the past year. With this, people’s aspirations for the tech’s capabilities have grown too. With that in mind, can AI play a role in saving Reddit after the backlash? Maybe. First, let’s explore why the backlash is happening in the first place.

Why are Redditors protesting?

The storm began this April, when Reddit announced changes to its API pricing, impacting third-party app developers. This threatened popular Reddit-based apps like Apollo with fees of $20m a year for API access. The pricing was set at $12,000 per 50m API requests. Reddit’s chief executive Steve Huffman told The Verge that API calls from third-party apps have cost the site almost $10m in infrastructure costs alone (presumably yearly). Apps that made the exit included Reddit Is Fun (RIF), BaconReader, Sync for Reddit, and more.

Reddit claims that its app was never designed to support third-party applications. Although, it now has a section on the website where it explains how the changes will affect the third-party apps and details its pricing. Many believe that the company is nudging users towards its native app for better tracking and personalization.

June 12th marked the beginning of significant protests to these API changes, with thousands of subreddits going dark. Notable community forums (‘subreddits’), like r/todayilearned and r/gaming, were pulled from public view by moderators. While some subreddits returned after 48 hours, others remained ‘restricted’, intensifying the standoff between Reddit's leadership and its user base.

The manipulation of NSFW (not safe for work) rules emerged as a novel protest tactic. The NSFW flair is used when sharing content that could be inappropriate to view in a professional environment. Some moderators added the NSFW tag to innocent subreddits, while others allowed NSFW content without proper labeling, violating Reddit's terms of service and moderator code of conduct. The presence of explicit content adjacent to brand advertisements raised concerns among advertisers about brand safety and association.

When the protests took place, it introduced new risks for advertisers on the platform, posing challenges to Reddit’s primary revenue driver. Users, moderators, and developers alike have raised concerns that the platform’s user experience also differs to that of third-party apps.

Can AI restore the balance?

Artificial intelligence has taken up the conversation in recent months, with the advent of ChatGPT and other tools released onto the market.

AI is now used across industries to improve user experience. It can facilitate content moderation, spam detection, and user safety on platforms, ensuring a safer and more engaging environment. For example, AI is used on Hubspot to moderate brand mentions and flag down anything that may be harmful to the brand.

As Reddit navigates the aftermath of the protests, its ability to embrace AI technology could become game-changing for the platform's future outlook. By capitalizing on AI-driven solutions, Reddit can restore user trust and engagement, creating an environment where monetization and user experience can coexist harmoniously.

While AI has a long way to go in terms of detection and avoiding bias, this could be a fun challenge for developers at Reddit to build and overcome. AI's ability to analyze user behavior and preferences could help Reddit strike a balance between monetization and user satisfaction. The implementation of AI-powered algorithms could optimize ad targeting, ensuring that advertisements are relevant and valuable to users, further enhancing the platform’s appeal to advertisers.

The Reddit API controversy has unveiled deep-seated concerns among users, developers, and moderators. The protests highlight the community's unwavering commitment to preserving the platform’s diverse and engaging ecosystem. While the impact of protests on Reddit’s advertising business is undeniable, it presents an opportunity for the platform to reevaluate its approach.

Embracing AI technology with an open mind and a commitment to transparency could be pivotal in guiding Reddit toward a sustainable future, where both user satisfaction and business growth can thrive.

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Artificial Intelligence Reddit Marketing

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Tug is a performance driven, global digital marketing agency, optimised to grow ambitious brands, through the smart combination of data, media, content and technology.


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