Reddit is no stranger to conflict between its users, but in its most recent controversy, the company found itself playing the antagonist. In June 2023, Reddit made headlines for being the subject of one of the largest scale protests by users of a site the Reddit blackout. However, not much is known about the effects of the event on Reddit’s communities. This semester, I began exploring how the culture of support-seeking subreddits was impacted by the blackout.

Image from the Wikimedia Commons

The Reddit Blackout

On June 12, 2023, more than 7,000 communities on Reddit went private — making them inaccessible to non-subscribers. The collective disabling and restricting of subreddits is known as a Reddit “blackout.” The decision to organize this blackout was largely made in protest of the company’s decision to charge for API access. Moderators fulfill their duties mainly by relying upon third party apps that were built using Reddit’s API. By fixing a price for the API that popular third party developers could not possibly afford, Reddit was essentially shutting down these apps. Moreover, by shutting down these apps, Reddit was ignoring the needs of moderators, arguably their most important users. 

In order to remind Reddit of their importance, moderators came together to devise a blackout of unprecedented scale. Subreddits went private for 48 hours. Hopefully, the company would recognize how much they needed their moderators and give in to their demand of reducing the price of API access. 

Unfortunately, this objective was not met. Reddit was determined to remain faithful to its business decision and wait out the blackout. Moderators were also unwilling to back down. After the originally planned 48-hour protest period was over, many subreddits remained private. The company then began to antagonize moderators by threatening to remove them and forcing subreddits to reopen. 

While some subreddits remain private even today, the blackout largely came to an unsuccessful end. The company was able to force many subreddits back into some form of normalcy, but community sentiment towards management has never been lower. In a post about the blackout, a moderator said, “I believe that Reddit administration has demonstrated an unsurprising but none-the-less disappointing lack of foresight and understanding of how their website operates… I believe [they do] not understand the value that their unpaid moderators bring to the website” (“[Modpost] Reddit Blackout – What’s Happening Next,” 2023).  Moderators feel that Reddit’s actions have made it abundantly clear how little the company cares about their users’ perspectives and moderator labor. 

This semester, I wanted to understand how the Reddit Blackout affected (1) Reddit as a community nurtured by volunteers and (2) Reddit as a dataset. The following questions guided my work:

  • How do people use Reddit to seek support?
  • What does current research say about the struggles of Reddit moderators?
  • Now that API access is gone, is running a large-scale data analysis about the blackout feasible?

Support Seeking on Reddit

Social support is the receipt of help from others by an individual (Zou 2024). Reddit is a social media platform structured into subject-specific communities (called subreddits) where users can post and interact. This topic-specificity makes Reddit a convenient venue for seeking social support. In fact, it has been praised for hosting certain support-seeking communities, particularly those serving people attempting sobriety (Sowles 2017). Subreddits that support drug recovery are just one of many support-giving communities. Redditors can receive emotional, informational, and tangible social support through the platform (Zou 2024). 

Moderator Labor

Volunteer moderators are an integral part of the culture and maintenance of Reddit. However, moderators’ important labor is often underappreciated due to misconceptions regarding what they do. These misconceptions largely stem from two main problems: (1) the lack of visibility around much of moderators’ contributions (Li 2022) and (2) a heightened focus on controversial tasks that they are seldom directly responsible for (Gilbert 2020). 

Reddit is designed such that comment removal is highly conspicuous (comments removed by moderators are replaced with the text “[deleted]”), promoting the idea that moderators’ main service is censoring users (Gilbert 2020). However, the majority of comment and post removal is actually performed by bots (Li 2022). So while moderators do find and implement technical workarounds, such as bots, they do not typically perform removals themselves. The misconception that moderators censor users results in community backlash and undue emotional burden on moderators (Gilbert 2020). Moderators also have over 64 other non-removal actions they are responsible for (Li 2022). Unfortunately, a recent study found that approximately 43% of their extensive labor is essentially “invisible” (Li 2022). 

The misunderstood and unseen labor of moderators complicates their relationship with Reddit as a company. The value and legitimacy of labor is typically correlated with its level of visibility (Gilbert 2020), so moderators are in a position of disadvantage at the negotiation table with the company (Li 2022). The company’s misconception of the labor of their moderators allows them to neglect the volunteers that keep their platform usable and prioritize investing in what they think will maximize revenue generation. This has been the root cause behind the major “blackouts” that the platform has experienced (Matias 2016). 

Data Exploration and Struggles

Given Reddit’s decision to charge for API access, obtaining subreddit data is not as straightforward as it once was. Fortunately, I was able to find a post download tool that enabled us to retrieve data from several support-seeking subreddits. 

The subreddit I initially chose to focus on was r/Depression. I analyzed a total of 115,093 r/Depression posts from April 2023 to February 2024. As I was looking through r/Depression posts during the original 48 hour period of the blackout, I realized that no one was mentioning the blackout. The subreddit hadn’t participated in the blackout, but I was still surprised that there were zero references to it. Both during and in the week after the blackout, the most frequently used words were the epitaphs “[removed]” and “[deleted].” I wasn’t sure if this meant that discussion around the blackout had been expunged or that there had never been any discussion around it at all. This made it very difficult to find patterns in posts and sentiments from during the blackout by members of the r/Depression subreddit.

(Left) Plot of r/Depression posts by day, in which June 12th, the first day of the blackout, is circled in red. It had the most posts of the month. (Right) Top 10 most frequently used words in posts during the blackout. The epitaphs [deleted] and [removed] were most common.

I then chose to redirect my attention to a subreddit that actually participated in the blackout, hoping this would make lack of discussion around the blackout unlikely. I looked at 29,229 r/SocialAnxiety posts from January to December 2023. There were no posts on the subreddit from during the blackout dates. I was not sure if that meant they all got deleted, or if posts from when a subreddit was private are not accessible via the post download tool. Either way, it was clear I needed to adopt a new approach to understand the blackout’s impact. 

Planned Quasi-Causal Analysis

After conducting some preliminary exploration of Reddit data from the blackout period, I became interested in determining the effects of the blackout on the culture of supporting-seeking subreddits. Specifically, I want to look at the blackout as an intervention and perform a comparative analysis on the culture of these subreddits before and after the blackout. To do so, I am going to use Regression Discontinuity in Time (RDiT), which we have seen applied successfully in similar work on Wikipedia (Hill 2021). 

RDiT is a quasi-causal method that compares regressions before and after an intervention date in order to identify causal effects. The intervention dates will be the initial 48 hour blackout period from June 12, 2023 to June 14, 2023. RDiT is a useful method for the data given that it relies on normalized intervention dates rather than a standard intervention score. RDiT also controls for fluctuations that organically occur over time, ensuring the comparison is strictly in relation to the intervention. This semester, I selected 12 candidate subreddits for analysis.

Selecting Subreddits for Analysis

I want to use data from support-seeking subreddits for my quasi-causal analysis. In particular, I want to analyze support-seeking subreddits across four categories: mental health subreddits that participated in the blackout, mental health subreddits that did not participate in the blackout, non mental health subreddits that participated in the blackout, and non mental health subreddits that did not participate in the blackout. I want to understand whether the intervention had an effect on participating subreddits by looking at how it affected both participating and non participating subreddits. I also want to grasp how the cultures of mental health support-seeking subreddits specifically were impacted by decisions to become private or restricted. After all, these subreddits can be especially critical for people in crises, making their shutdowns potentially more damaging than others’ for consumers of Reddit. 

Table of the 12 subreddits selected for the quasi-causal analysis.

Selecting subreddits within the four categories faced three main challenges: they each had to be support-seeking, have around the same number of members as their counterparts, and be available for research and download. Furthermore, each subreddit had to be investigated to determine whether they participated in the blackout or not. Initially, a post on the r/ModCoord subreddit that listed all blackout-participating subreddits was consulted. From here, after manual inspection of member numbers, the following 6 subreddits were selected that participated in the blackout: r/BPD, r/Autism, r/SocialAnxiety (3 mental health subreddits), and r/Confidence, r/LearnMath, and r/MaleHairAdvice (3 support-seeking but not mental health related subreddits). Manual inspection of subreddits by size on the “Top Communities” pages of Reddit yielded 6 more subreddits. These 6 subreddits did not participate in the blackout: r/CPTSD, r/Lonely, r/MentalHealth (3 mental health subreddits), r/FreeFood, r/NeedAFriend, and r/Texts (3 support-seeking but not mental health-related subreddits). Together, these 12 supporting-seeking subreddits form the dataset upon which I will be conducting my quasi-causal analysis. 

Closing Remarks

The Reddit blackout remains one of the largest and best documented online protests. Although the disruption appeared to have little impact on Reddit’s business decision, its consequences for the people who rely on Reddit’s communities for social support are unexplored. Next semester, I look forward to better understanding how online collective action changes support-seeking communities long term. 


Gilbert, S. A. (2020). “I run the world’s largest historical outreach project and it’s on a cesspool of a website.” Moderating a Public Scholarship Site on Reddit: A Case Study of r/AskHistorians. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 4(CSCW1), 1–27.

Hill, B. M., & Shaw, A. (2021). The Hidden Costs of Requiring Accounts: Quasi-Experimental Evidence From Peer Production. Communication Research, 48(6), 771-795.

Li, H., Hecht, B., & Chancellor, S. (2022). All That’s Happening Behind the Scenes: Putting the Spotlight on Volunteer Moderator Labor in Reddit. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 16(1), 584-595.

Matias, J.. (2016). Going Dark: Social Factors in Collective Action Against Platform Operators in the Reddit Blackout. 1138-1151. 10.1145/2858036.2858391. 

Morrison, S. (2023, June 20). Reddit blackout: What is it and why are subreddits going dark? Vox.

Peters, J. (2023, June 30). How Reddit crushed the biggest protest in its history. The Verge.

R/3d6 on Reddit: [Modpost] Reddit Blackout – What’s Happening Next? Reddit. (n.d.). 

Sowles, S. J., Krauss, M. J., Gebremedhn, L., & Cavazos-Rehg, P. A. (2017). “I Feel Like I’ve Hit the Bottom and have no Idea what to Do”: Supportive Social Networking on Reddit for Individuals with a Desire to Quit Cannabis Use. Substance Abuse, 38(4), 477–482.

Zou, W., Tang, L., Zhou, M., & Zhang, X. (2024). Self-disclosure and received social support among women experiencing infertility on reddit: A natural language processing approach. Computers in Human Behavior, 154, 108159-.

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