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Reddit mods fear spam overload as BotDefense leaves ‘hostile’ Reddit

Zoom in / There could be a lot more of this soon on Reddit.

The Reddit community is still calculating the consequences of the platform’s API price hike. The changes shut down several third-party Reddit apps and prompted several important communities, such as Ask Me Anything organizers (AMAs), to reduce or end their presence on the site.

The latest group to announce its departure is BotDefense. BotDefense, which helps remove rogue senders and comments from Reddit maintained by volunteer moderators, is said to help curate 3,650 subreddits. BotDefense creator Ars Technica told Ars Technica that the team is now abandoning Reddit’s “hostile actions” toward moderators and developers, with spam management implications for some of the larger sub-forums like r/space.

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BotDefense started in 2019 as a volunteer project and is run by volunteers known as “dequeued” and “abrownn” on Reddit. Since then, she claims to have filled her ban list with 144,926 accounts, and she helps curate subreddits with large followings, such as r/gaming (37.4 million members), /r/aww (34.2 million), and r/music. (32.4 million), r/nicks (26.2 million), r/space (23.5 million), and r/liveprotips (22.2 million). Other great BotDefense subsets that help mods include /r/food, /r/EarthPorn, /r/DIY, and /r/Mouldlyinteresting, Dequeued told Ars.

On Wednesday, Decid announced that BotDefense has ceased operations. BotDefense has already stopped accepting bot account submissions and will disable future actions on bots. BotDefense will “continue to review appeals and revocations for at least 90 days or until Reddit cracks BotDefense’s code,” the announcement said. The announcement also stated, “BotDefense will be retained as a moderator until October 3 so that any future unblocks can be processed.”

The situation also highlights the importance of Pushshift, which recently lost access to the Reddit API due to “miscommunication,” according to Ars Technica’s sister site Wired — but has since regained it. Pushshift is run by the Institute for Network Infection Research in Princeton, New Jersey, and is said to be popular with thousands of volunteer moderators on Reddit. As a non-commercial and educational tool, Pushshift is exempt from Reddit’s new API pricing scheme, but has been removed from the list. He told Ars Technica that Reddit’s limitations “made it cumbersome to use”. Furthermore, “most users who submit bots to BotDefense no longer have access to them,” the mod said.

This is important because “Pushshift is critical to our efforts to detect postback bots, comment copy bots, bots that use ChatGPT to mimic human activity, and other types of malicious bots,” he told Ars Technica. “Pushshift has a very detailed system for searching past content. We use it to detect these bots. Reddit is much more restrictive in searching past posts, and the API does not support searching for comments.”

Like other moderators Ars spoke to, they cited Reddit’s closed third-party apps, like Apollo and RIF Is Fun, as key orchestration tools. He also cited “applications that acted as front-ends to Pushshift, that made it easier for users to scan for malicious accounts” as critical to BotDefense’s efforts.

Some third-party Reddit apps, such as Narwhal, are still available and have been ported over to paid models. However, the Ars developers I spoke with showed uncertainty about the sustainability of these approaches.

Meanwhile, Dequad said that the “few small gestures” Reddit is making to keep a small number of third-party apps alive don’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 “hostile actions” toward developers and modders are the only reason for BotDefense’s shutdown. The broker said that there are plans for future tools, such as a new machine learning system, to detect “more” bots. Before the API battle got ugly, Decoyd had no plans to stop working on BotDefense.



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