The Reddit community is still considering the impact of the platform’s API price hike. The changes have led to the shutdown of numerous third-party Reddit apps and prompted several key communities, such as the organizers of Ask Me Anything (AMAs), to reduce or terminate their presence on the site.
The last group to announce its departure is BotDefense. BotDefense, which helps remove rogue submission and comment bots from Reddit and is maintained by volunteer moderators, is said to help moderate 3,650 subreddits. The creator of BotDefense told Ars Technica that the team is now shutting down due to Reddit’s “antagonistic actions” towards moderators and developers, with worrying implications for spam moderation on some major subreddits like r/space.
BotDefense started in 2019 as a volunteer project and is run by volunteer mods, known as “dequeued” and “abrownn” on Reddit. Since then, it claims to have filled its ban list with 144,926 accounts, and helps moderate subreddits with huge followings, such as 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 great subreddits that BotDefense helps moderate are /r/food, /r/EarthPorn, /r/DIY, and /r/mildlyinteresting.
On Wednesday, dequeued announced that BotDefense will stop operating. BotDefense has already stopped accepting submissions from bot accounts 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 BotDefense’s code,” the announcement said. The announcement also advised to “keep BotDefense as a moderator until October 3 so that 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 exception to Reddit’s new API pricing schedule, but from the queue, Ars Technica said the restrictions imposed by Reddit have “made it cumbersome to use.” Furthermore, “most 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 granular system to search past content. We use it to detect these bots. Reddit is much more limited in searching past posts and the API doesn’t support searching comments.”
Like other moderators Ars has spoken to, Ars has dequeued cited third-party Reddit apps like Apollo and RIF Is Fun as top moderation tools. dequeued also pointed to “apps that acted as front-ends to Pushshift, making it easier for users to investigate malicious accounts” as critical to BotDefense’s efforts.
Some third-party Reddit apps, such as Narwhal, are still available and have moved to paid models. However, the developers Ars spoke to have expressed uncertainty about how sustainable these approaches are.
Meanwhile, dequeued said Reddit’s “few small gestures” to keep a small number of third-party apps alive won’t fix the bad reputation the company now has with BotDefense.
Dequeued, who said they’ve been moderating for nearly nine years, said Reddit’s “antagonistic actions” toward developers and mods are the only reason BotDefense is closing. The moderator said there are plans for future tools, such as a new machine learning system for detecting “many more” bots. Before the API battle got ugly, dequeued had no plans to stop working on BotDefense.