The Reddit community is still reckoning with the consequences of the platform’s API price hike. The changes have led to the shuttering of numerous third-party Reddit apps and have pushed several important communities, like the Ask Me Anything (AMAs) organizers, to reduce or end their presence on the site.
The latest group to announce its departure is BotDefense. BotDefense, which helps removes rogue submission and comment bots from Reddit and which is maintained by volunteer moderators, is said to help moderate 3,650 subreddits. BotDefense’s creator told Ars Technica that the team is now quitting over Reddit’s “antagonistic actions” toward moderators and developers, with concerning implications for spam moderation on some large subreddits like r/space.
Valued bot fighter
BotDefense started in 2019 as a volunteer project and has been run by volunteer mods, known as “dequeued” and “andabrownn” on Reddit. Since then, it claims to have populated its ban list with 144,926 accounts, and it helps moderate subreddits with huge followings, like r/gaming (37.4 million members), /r/aww (34.2 million), r/music (32.4 million), r/Jokes (26.2 million), r/space (23.5 million), and /r/LifeProTips (22.2 million). Dequeued told Ars that other large subreddits BotDefense helps moderates include /r/food, /r/EarthPorn, /r/DIY, and /r/mildlyinteresting.
On Wednesday, dequeued announced that BotDefense is ceasing operations. BotDefense has already stopped accepting bot account submissions and will disable future action on bots. BotDefense “will continue to review appeals and process unbans for a minimum of 90 days or until Reddit breaks the code running BotDefense,” the announcement said. The announcement also advised “keeping BotDefense as a moderator through October 3rd so any future unbans can be processed.”
The situation also highlights the importance of Pushshift, which recently lost Reddit API access due to a “miscommunication,” according to Ars Technica sister site Wired—but then regained it. Pushshift is run by the Network Contagion Research Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and is said to be popular among Reddit’s thousands of volunteer moderators. As a non-commercial and educational tool, Pushshift has an exemption to Reddit’s new API pricing scheme, but dequeued told Ars Technica that restrictions Reddit has imposed have “made it cumbersome to use.” Further, “most of the users who submit bots to BotDefense no longer have access,” the mod said.
That’s important because “Pushshift is critical to our efforts to detect repost bots, comment copy bots, bots that use ChatGPT to mimic human activity, and other types of malicious bots,” dequeued told Ars Technica. “Pushshift has a very detailed system for searching through past content. We use it to detect these bots. Reddit is much more limiting in searching for past posts, and the API doesn’t support searching for comments.”
Like other moderators Ars has spoken to, dequeued cited shuttered third-party Reddit apps, like Apollo and RIF Is Fun, as key moderation tools. dequeued also pointed to “apps that acted as front-ends to Pushshift, which made it easier for users to research malicious accounts” as critical to BotDefense’s efforts.
Some third-party Reddit apps, like Narwhal, are still available and have moved to paid models. However, devs Ars has spoken with have shown uncertainty around how sustainable these approaches are.
Meanwhile, dequeued said that Reddit’s “few minor gestures” to keep a small number of third-party apps alive doesn’t fix the poor reputation the company now has with BotDefense.
Dequeued, who said they’ve been moderating for nearly nine years, said Reddit’s “antagonistic actions” toward devs and mods are the only reason BotDefense is closing. The moderator said there were plans for future tools, like a new machine learning system for detecting “many more” bots. Before the API battle turned ugly, dequeued had no plans to stop working on BotDefense.