On Tuesday, Reddit wrapped up the 2023 edition of r/Place — the internet canvas where Redditors can place a pixel every five minutes, collaboratively creating art. But the internet collage had a different vibe this year, defined by the way some Redditors used the canvas to protest Reddit CEO Steve Huffman.
This year’s r/Place kicked off on July 20, and users quickly began collaborating in creating fan art — and in dunking on the company’s CEO by writing “fuck spez” all over the canvas. (Spez is Huffman’s Reddit username.) These protests are a response to the Reddit CEO announcing a change to API pricing, increasing the fees that developers pay to access parts of Reddit’s code. As a result, a number of third-party app founders said they would be forced to shut down.
As of Wednesday morning, the r/Place subreddit is flooded with screenshots showing segments from the full final artwork. One of the crops focuses on the text “Fuck Spez,” written in enormous white letters on one part of the project. Others hone in on a different instance of the same words, written in large, colorful letters. On some of the most upvoted posts, Redditors have called for other commenters to respond with a list of common search-engine optimization terms — for example “reddit CEO” and “reddit CEO picture” — to attempt to boost the image’s placement in Google search results. At the time of writing, Googling “reddit CEO picture” on incognito mode pulled up this link in the top result spot:
These protests started on the first day r/Place went live. The timelapse video of 2023 r/Place’s first day, posted in the subreddit, shows the canvas getting covered with numerous instances of “fuck spez,” before being partially tiled over. At the top of the image, Redditors surrounded “u/spez ist ein hurensohn” (literally, “Spez is a whoreson”) with the colors of the German flag.
In the comments, Redditors claimed that moderators and admin pixeled over some of these instances of “fuck spez.” On July 20, a Reddit spokesperson pointed The Verge to r/Place’s canvas rules, which specify: “targeted hate or harassment of private individuals (including mods and admin) and protected groups are violations of our
Redditors are trying to get an image that reads ‘Fuck Spez’ to the top of Google searches
policy (Rule 1) and will be removed.”
And on Friday, when Reddit expanded the r/Place canvas, Redditors immediately resumed cursing out the company’s CEO. These instances were covered just hours later. Users also extended the German and French flag motifs around the edges. (Flags often appear in previous iterations of r/Place.)
It takes a fair amount of teamwork to create images on r/Place, given the one-pixel-at-a-time process. Collaborations are often coordinated via other subreddits. It’s not unusual to see two fan groups fighting for space in real time, with images on the canvas being overwritten or changed. In some cases, one group cedes to the other; in others, the images combine. While Redditors still created tons of other fan art on the 2023 r/Place canvas, celebrating favorite games like Genshin Impact and more, the protest against Reddit’s CEO seems to have given users something to rally around.
A Reddit spokesperson declined to comment about this year’s edition of r/Place, telling Polygon via email “redditors are going to reddit.”