A labor dispute between Reddit and its forum moderators immediately spilled onto another tech platform, affecting Google users enough that the popular search engine acknowledged it at an “all-hands” meeting.
According to CNBC, Google’s search function was hampered as a result of thousands of Reddit forums were made inaccessible to public viewing; as a result, Google users adding Reddit by name as part of their Internet searches were receiving “unhelpful” results.
“What can we do to improve the user experience on the core product that made Google a household name?” a Google employee reportedly asked senior vice president of search functions Prabhakar Raghavan at the meeting.
“Many of you may wonder how we have a search team that’s iterating and building all this new stuff and yet somehow, users are still not quite happy,” Raghavan responded. “We need to make users happy.”
The conflict between Reddit and its moderators — who carry out the function without pay — began in June 2023, when the platform announced that, as Twitter did earlier in the year, it would increase the price for outside app developers to have access to its application programming interface (API for short). As the tech news site The Verge reported at the time:
The developer behind Apollo, for example, said that at its current rate of making 7 billion requests per month, it would need to pay $1.7 million for access to Reddit’s API, or $20 million a year. “I don’t see how this pricing is anything based in reality or remotely reasonable,” developer Christian Selig wrote. “I hope it goes without saying that I don’t have that kind of money or would even know how to charge it to a credit card.”
In response, more than 8,000 Reddit communities (a.k.a. “subreddits”) were switched into private viewing mode for 48 hours, though many of them stopped enabling user activity for longer.
The company has responded with a hardline stance; some moderators said they interpreted a message from Reddit asking if they were “not able or willing to reopen and maintain” their forum as a threat.
While most forums involved in the protest have reopened, Reddit chief executive Steve Huffman announced that he would be open to changing the platform’s rules for removing moderators, which typically can only be done by peers with higher rankings or in cases where a moderator is inactive.
“If you’re a politician or a business owner, you are accountable to your constituents,” Huffman said to NBC News. “So a politician needs to be elected, and a business owner can be fired by its shareholders. And I think, on Reddit, the analogy is closer to the landed gentry: The people who get there first get to stay there and pass it down to their descendants, and that is not democratic.”
How these changes might affect efforts to fight disinformation campaigns across platforms remains to be seen.