Power Play in Digital Communities: Unpacking the Reddit Blackout

Thesis (MA)

Advisor(s): Dr. Andreas Hein (andreas.hein@tum.de


In the digital age, platforms like Reddit have emerged as powerful spaces for community formation, interaction, and content sharing (Kane et al., 2014). These platforms, while technologically driven, are fundamentally human-centric, thriving on the contributions and engagements of their users (Hukal et al., 2020). However, the symbiotic relationship between platform owners and their user communities is not without its tensions. A stark manifestation of this tension was observed in the so-called Reddit Blackout, an incident that saw thousands of subreddits go dark in protest against the platform's decision to charge third-party applications for access[1].

The Reddit Blackout serves as a poignant reminder of the intricate power dynamics at play in digital platforms (Hurni et al., 2022). While Reddit, as a company, sought to monetize and regulate its ecosystem, the move was perceived as a top-down decision that disregarded the interests and tools essential for the community, especially the moderators. This incident underscores the often complex and sometimes adversarial relationship between centralized platform governance and the decentralized communities that populate and enrich these platforms.

Such incidents are not merely operational hiccups but are deeply rooted in the broader debates of digital platform research. They bring to the fore questions about value creation and appropriation, platform dependency, collective action, and platform governance. Who truly 'owns' a platform? Is it the entity that provides the technological infrastructure, or is it the community that gives life to this infrastructure through content and engagement? In this context, the Reddit Blackout offers a rich case study to delve deep into these questions, exploring the nuances of community and power dynamics in digital platforms.

By studying the Reddit Blackout, this research aims to contribute to the growing body of knowledge on digital platform governance, community engagement, and the interplay of power dynamics in online spaces. Through this lens, we aim to better understand not just the incident itself, but the broader implications it holds for the future of digital platforms and their communities.

Research Objectives of the master’s thesis could include:

  • Understand the power dynamics between digital platform owners (Reddit) and community members (subreddits and moderators).
  • To analyze the causes, impacts, and aftermath of the Reddit Blackout.
  • To explore the broader implications of such incidents on the governance and evolution of digital platforms.

 Potential Research Questions guiding the thesis are:

  • What were the primary grievances and concerns of the Reddit community leading up to the blackout?
  • How did the community's narrative evolve before, during, and after the blackout?
  • What strategies did Reddit employ in response to the blackout, and how were these perceived by the community?
  • How do incidents like the Reddit Blackout influence the power dynamics between platform owners and community members?
  • What lessons can other digital platforms learn from the Reddit Blackout regarding governance, community engagement, and conflict resolution?

Other research questions to be pursued in the thesis can be suggested and discussed.


Data Collection 
a. Crawling Reddit Data: Extract posts, comments, and metadata from affected subreddits before, during, and after the blackout[2][3].
b. Interviews: Conduct semi-structured interviews with moderators of affected subreddits to gain insights into their perspectives, decisions, and experiences.

Data Analysis:
a. Quantitative Content Analysis: Use statistical methods to analyze trends, patterns, and anomalies in the data collected from the Reddit API. This can include sentiment analysis, frequency counts of specific terms, and more (Krippendorff, 2018; Neuendorf, 2017).
b. Qualitative Content Analysis: Analyze the content of posts and comments to understand the community's sentiments, concerns, and narratives. This will involve coding and thematic analysis (Mayring, 2015).
c. Interview Analysis: Transcribe and code the interviews to extract themes, insights, and patterns (Wiesche et al., 2017).


  • Interest in current topics of digital platforms and ecosystems
  • Ability/willingness to learn to collect and analyze large data sets
  • High degree of autonomy and individual responsibility
  • Experience in and willingness to conduct scientific studies
  • Structured, reliable, and self-motivated work style


Hukal, P., Henfridsson, O., Shaikh, M., & Parker, G. (2020). Platform Signaling for Generating Platform Content. MIS Quarterly, 44(3).

Hurni, T., Huber, T. L., & Dibbern, J. (2022). Power dynamics in software platform ecosystems. Information Systems Journal, 32(2), 310-343. https://doi.org/10.1111/isj.12356

Kane, G. C., Alavi, M., Labianca, G., & Borgatti, S. P. (2014). What’s different about social media networks? A framework and research agenda. MIS Quarterly, 38(1), 275-304.

Krippendorff, K. (2018). Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology. Sage publications.

Mayring, P. (2015). Qualitative Inhaltsanalyse. Grundlagen und Techniken. Beltz. Weinheim, 4, 58.

Neuendorf, K. A. (2017). The content analysis guidebook. sage.

Wiesche, M., Jurisch, M. C., Yetton, P. W., & Krcmar, H. (2017). Grounded theory methodology in information systems research. MIS Quarterly, 41(3), 685-A689.