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Reddit Faces Heat: Community Protests, Ransomware Attacks, and the Rise of John Oliver pictures




Just a few days ago, Reddit witnessed an unprecedented wave of protests as thousands of subreddits turned dark. They protested the introduction of new API policies and pricing, which, according to users, could potentially annihilate third-party apps for the platform. Faced with growing dissent, Reddit’s management had the opportunity to reassess its decision or stand its ground. Reddit’s CEO, Mike Huffman, sent a company-wide memo reiterating the company’s stance, dismissing the protests as temporary, and declaring that Reddit had no plans to deviate from its chosen course. However, with the continuation of the blackout after the first two days, Reddit found it necessary to exert pressure on the involved moderators and private subreddits.

Under Pressure

Private subreddits can only be accessed by their subscribers. Entrance into these groups is typically granted through private messages to the group’s moderators. However, following the sustained protest, Reddit began coercing moderators to change their groups’ visibility to the public. Reddit also threatened to shut down certain communities if they did not comply. Notification on /r/steam, a subreddit dedicated to Valve’s Steam gaming platform with around 1.88 million users, indicated that the Reddit administrators had asked the community to reopen or face removal. Consequently, the subreddit resumed its operations, but with a subtle shift. Many threads now discuss Steam as a technology rather than a gaming platform. Other subreddits’ moderators reported receiving similar messages, causing a stir on the ModCoord subreddit due to Reddit’s aggressive tactics.

Reddit Alternatives

The policy changes, and Reddit’s handling of the situation led some users to explore alternative platforms. Lemmy is emerging as one of the favored alternatives, but it’s still uncertain whether it will draw enough users to pose a significant challenge to Reddit. In response, Reddit may fill vacant moderator positions with new volunteers or even paid moderators.

The John Oliver Effect

In a striking turn of events, three large subreddits – r/pics, r/gifs, and r/aww – announced a new rule following a user poll. These subreddits, with a combined total of more than 85 million subscribers, decided only to allow posts featuring comedian and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver. After polling their users, the subreddits reopened with the following results:

  • r/pics: “Only allow images of John Oliver looking sexy,” won with 37,331 votes against -2,329 votes for returning to normal content.
  • r/gifs: “Only feature GIFs of John Oliver” won with 13,696 votes against -1,851 votes for the normal content.
  • r/aww: “Only allow adorable content featuring John Oliver, Chiijohn, and anything else that closely resembles them,” won with 48,506 votes against -2,691 votes for the normal content.

Currently, these subreddits are filled with content featuring John Oliver. This move followed CEO Huffman’s comments dismissing the influence of moderators over users’ wishes, thus igniting further unrest among the communities.

Ransomware Attack and Data Theft

In February, Reddit disclosed that it had been the target of a ransomware attack by the BlackCat (ALPHV) gang. The cybercriminals claim to have stolen 80GB of data following a successful phishing attack on an employee. This was the same attack disclosed by Reddit and is believed to have been orchestrated by the same group behind a similar attack on Western Digital in March 2023. Western Digital’s My Cloud service suffered a massive outage due to the attack. The hackers, known as BlackCat, twice attempted to contact Reddit on April 13th and June 16th, demanding $4.5 million in exchange for the deletion of the stolen data. When their demands were met with silence, the threat actors pledged to leak the data. Reddit declined to comment on the matter, maintaining a silent stance on BlackCat’s post.

Further Implications

The same hacking group is believed to be linked to the attack on Western Digital that caused a massive outage in its My Cloud service. The data breach led Western Digital to send out notifications in May, alerting online store customers that their data was compromised during the attack. Screen captures of the stolen data was later leaked on the ALPHV data leak site, with the threat actors taunting the company about the attack.

Community Unrest Continues

While many subreddits have begun to reopen, over 4,000 remain dark, according to one tracker. This is a significant drop from the peak of the protest when more than 8,000 went dark. Some subreddits reopened under duress, feeling threatened by Reddit’s message that it could process a Top Mod Removal request “if mods higher up the list are hindering reopening.” An increasing number of moderators continue to express their concerns over Reddit’s “threatening behavior.” The sentiment was captured in a post on r/ModCoord, which stated, “Volunteer moderators are the lifeblood of Reddit’s communities. Our dedication shapes the platform’s success. It is crucial for Reddit to listen to our concerns and work with us to maintain the vibrant communities that make Reddit what it is. Until our voices are heard, and our demands met, we will continue our blackouts — without fear of any threat.” More than 170 users have signed up to co-endorse the post.


In the wake of these incidents, Reddit’s management faces numerous challenges. The effects of the community protests, decisions about unpaid volunteer moderators, and response to ransomware attacks will have far-reaching implications for Reddit’s reputation, user loyalty, and future growth. At this point, it remains to be seen how Reddit’s management will navigate this labyrinth of issues, balancing between its business goals and the interests of its vast user base.