The moderators of the r/technology discussion forum on Reddit have touted plans that could dramatically impact websites that force web users to disable ad-blockers to view online content – naming popular sites such as Forbes and Wired as possible candidates for dismissal.
While not an official stance from Reddit Inc., a statement posted on 8 May 2016 by the moderators said: "It has come to our attention that many websites such as Forbes and Wired are now requiring users to disable ad blockers to view content. Because Forbes requires users to do this and has then served malware to them, we see this as a security risk to you our community."
In January it was uncovered that popular technology website Forbes was not only forcing its readers to disable ad blockers but also infecting visiting computers with malware from third-party advertisements once they did.
However, the Reddit moderators also focused on paywalled websites in their potential policy update – which was put to its five million user base to discuss openly.
"There are also sites such as Wall Street Journal that have implemented paywalls, which we are also considering banning," the statement continued. "We would like all of your thoughts on whether or not we should allow domains such as Forbes here on /r/technology while they continue to resort to such practices. Thank you for the input."
Many mainstream and legacy news outlets such as The New York Times, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post use paywall structures – some stricter than others.
Furthermore, many news organisations that operate online rely on advertising to fund web costs and reporting. The turbulent changes in traditional ad structures alongside the rise in social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have left many publishers weary as the future of digital publishing enters uncharted territory.
"Online publishers have faced numerous financial challenges in recent years, including automated advertising and ad-blocking tools," wrote John Herrman of The New York Times last month. "Now, there is a realisation that something more profound has happened: The transition from an internet of websites to an internet of mobile apps and social platforms, and Facebook in particular, is no longer coming – it is here."
As competition heats up, websites are more click-hungry than ever – and the Reddit community knows it. "As Reddit we have a moderate amount of power – Forbes and Wired would likely notice the decrease in traffic coming from front-page stories," said one user under the moderator's post. "Let's use our position to send a good message on behalf of netizens everywhere!"
And while other commenters shared a more nuanced view about the realities of the digital news business needing a solid source of income – most Reddit members agree the current situation cannot be allowed to continue.
"Media sites need to accept that they can't expect viewers to respect their rights to monetise while they continue to pollute search results to boost their ranking," wrote one user. "I am all for sites with whatever ad-based or subscription business model they want, but as long as they are abusing search results with paywalled information, I'm going to jump that fence and, moreover, look for better news sources."
Another added: "Websites can earn ad revenue in safe and respectful ways, but they aren't doing that, so my ad blocker stays on for my safety." In any case, many websites over the years have fallen victim to ad-based scams. In January last year, one major malware campaign was uncovered that hit more than 20 websites including The Huffington Post, Yahoo News, AOL, TMZ and Match.com.
<sub>Note: The article and headline was updated to reflect the changes were proposed by Reddit moderators and not the Reddit Inc entity.