More than 100 subreddits – including two that each have more than 10 million subscribers – have made themselves private, meaning that they can only be seen by members.
The move is part of a protest against Reddit’s management and its policy towards misinformation on the coronavirus.
Last week, Reddit chief executive Steve Huffman rejected users’ pleas to explicitly ban posts that spread false information about covid. He said that the site values “dissent” and that he aimed to make the site a place for “open and authentic discussion and debate”.
“This includes conversations that question or disagree with popular consensus. This includes conversations that criticize those that disagree with the majority opinion. This includes protests that criticize or object to our decisions on which communities to ban from the platform.”
Mr Huffman’s post was notably locked as it was posted, meaning that users were unable to voice any dissent in response to the post directly.
Instead, the moderators of a variety of forums have turned those subreddits “dark” as a way of voicing their belief that the site needs to do more. The two are “futurology” and “tifu”, both of which have more than 10 million users, but many more are involved, including those devoted to Star Trek and Pokemon Go.
Reddit’s response to misinformation has largely been characterised by its belief that other users will correct posts that spread false information. While it has added some punishments, they have mostly been limited to “quarantining” one forum, which simply adds a warning page that users can dismiss.
It is that approach that led to criticism from users, who argued that Reddit was helping spread lies.
“We could have been better off months ago, but disinformation and lies have been allowed to spread readily through inaction and malice, and have dragged this on at the cost of lives,” an open letter posted on the “VaxxHappened” subreddit read.
“There are those who deny that the pandemic even exists, there are those who think that wearing a mask will literally suffocate you, there are those who think it’s no worse than a regular flu virus, that it’s a bioweapon, and everything in between. This volume of blatant misinformation is problematic and dangerous.”